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Movie Review: 'Rock of Ages'

Screen version of the Broadway tribute to '80s rock 'n' roll hair bands

Of course, Tom Cruise isn’t the first Hollywood actor to take a stab at playing a rock star. Here are some of my favorites:

• Hugh Grant, Music and Lyrics (2007).  This is actually my favorite Hugh Grant movie. He plays a washed-up 1980s rock star who’s living off the royalties and residual fame from his old group, clearly modeled after George Michael’s Wham! (only Grant’s not the George Michael character — he’s the other, less successful guy). He teams up with a young songwriter (Drew Barrymore) and romantic comedy ensues. But the film’s highlights are hands-down Grant’s musical numbers, most notably the opening one, a faux-1980s music video called “Pop Goes My Heart.”

• Billy Crudup, Almost Famous (2000). Seen through the eyes of a 15-year-old Rolling Stone writer (Patrick Fugit), Crudup’s lead guitarist for an up-and-coming band is a mixture of hero and overgrown child. Best scene: Crudup standing on a roof, planning to make a dangerous jump into a swimming pool, and contemplating his last words: “I love music … and I’m on drugs!”

• Kris Kristofferson, A Star is Born (1976). Of course, he was a songwriter (“Me and Bobby McGee”) and a musical performer before he turned to acting, but Kristofferson was certainly no rock star when he took on the role of burned-out singer John Norman Howard opposite Barbra Streisand. John’s a growling, boozy mess, yet there’s not a dry eye in the house when he goes to that big bandstand in the sky. Elvis Presley was first approached to play the role — and how great would that have been?

• Bette Midler, The Rose (1979). Okay, Bette really was a rock star, and The Rose was her first movie, but we’re going to cut her some slack here because, frankly, we need a woman on the list. Known for her outrageous stage presence and whacked-out persona, Midler took everyone by surprise with her layered, exquisitely measured performance as a tragic diva modeled after Janis Joplin. Her first time out of the gate, Midler was nominated for an Oscar.

• Bill Nighy, Love Actually (2003).  In all the movies, there’s no fallen rock star more fun to be with than Nighy’s Billy Mack, a onetime hit factory who has re-recorded his greatest classic as a holiday record, substituting the word “Love” with “Christmas.” Tired, cynical and resigned to living the rest of his days as the answer to a trivia question, Billy goes on a local radio show and pleads, “Buy my festering turd of a record.”

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