MTV abandoned its all-music video format because of its inherent lack of continuity.
Every four minutes, the viewer had an opportunity to consider changing the channel. And since the network relied on the record labels to provide the videos, there was little quality control. For every video that was unique and fresh, there were several that were tired and derivative.
Watching ''Rock of Ages'' is a lot like watching the original MTV. Sometimes it's entertaining or at the very least a pleasant diversion. Other times, it's a mess and one scene seems to have little connection to the tone or style of the next.
The movie is an adaptation of the jukebox musical still running on Broadway that weaves its story around many of the hits MTV played in its first decade, hair metal anthems and power ballads like ''Cum on Feel the Noize,'' ''Every Rose Has Its Thorn,'' ''Here I Go Again'' and ''Wanted Dead or Alive.'' And the movie adds a few that aren't part of the stage version.
''Rock of Ages'' serves up the sounds, the hair and clothes with a dose of theatrical excess to camp up its '80s nostalgia.
Tom Cruise's portrayal of rock god Stacee Jaxx brings to mind another '80s artifact - ''Top Gun.'' Instead of Maverick and Iceman battling as fighter pilots, Cruise seems to be doing his best to top Val Kilmer's Jim Morrison for best portrayal of a self-serious rocker. Jaxx is a rock megastar, one whose look, at least, clearly is patterned after Axl Rose. He makes so much money for so many people that his every whim is indulged, from his manic monkey sidekick called ''Hey Man'' to his endless supply of booze and women (considering its setting, ''Rock of Ages'' is essentially drug free. Maybe Nancy Reagan's ''Just say no'' campaign worked).
WHAT: ''Rock of Ages''
STARS: Diego Boneta, Julianne Hough, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta Jones, Bryan Cranston and Malin Akerman
STORYLINE: Two Hollywood newbies dream of hair metal stardom while a legendary Sunset Strip club struggles to survive an attack by moral guardians.
DIRECTOR: Adam Shankman
RATING: Rated PG-13 for sexual content, language, some heavy drinking and suggestive dancing.
The intensity Cruise brings to the character is admirable. He's trying to forge a real person in a film filled with roles with all the character development of a ZZTop video, although his portrayal sometimes seems at odds with the material, like an over-the-top sex scene with a Rolling Stone reporter (Malin Akerman) choreographed to ''I Wanna Know What Love Is.''
''Rock of Ages'' certainly is a more interesting movie whenever Jaxx is on screen. The problem is he's a supporting character. The main story involves Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough), a young girl off the bus from Oklahoma with dreams of becoming a singer, and Drew Boley (Diego Boleta), a bartender at the Sunset Strip club the Bourbon Room who also has dreams of singing on its stage.
They meet cute, fall in love, and he starts writing her a song encouraging her to chase her dreams (a little ditty called ''Don't Stop Believin'''). He gets his big break but thinks Sherrie had sex with Jaxx, which sends them on their own shame spirals (he ends up in a boy band; she ends up being a dancer in a much classier club than the one in Motley Crue's ''Girls, Girls, Girls'' video). But don't stop believin'; it just might work out in the end.
Despite the excesses of the music they love, both are kind of bland. There's nothing about Drew's performance of ''I Wanna Rock'' to explain why Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti, indulging in every sleazy manager cliche) thinks he's discovered the next superstar. And Hough's voice is thin and ill-suited for some of the material.
''Rock of Ages'' is better when the focus is on the supporting players, like the banter between Bourbon Room owner and his assistant (Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand), or when the soundtrack is mashing together familiar hits. It's funny and ironic that Twisted Sister's ''We're Not Gonna Take It'' (alternated with Starship's ''We Built This City'') is sung by the group of women trying to shut down the Bourbon Room. They clearly are patterned after the Tipper Gore-led PMRC, and Twisted Sister's Dee Snider testified before a congressional committee in opposition of the group. That number also features cameos by several '80s artists, including REO Speedwagon's Kevin Cronin, Skid Row's Sebastian Bach, Extreme's Nuno Bettencourt and Debbie Gibson.
Speaking of REO Speedwagon, the best musical number in the movie may be a duet of ''I Can't Fight This Feeling," but I won't spoil the surprise by revealing who sings it.
Director Adam Shankman took a great Broadway musical in ''Hairspray'' and turned it into a pretty good movie. The quality of the source material here isn't as good, but neither is his direction. The storytelling verges on incoherent as it shifts from winking and self-mocking to earnest, frequently within the same scene. Even those looking for ''Nothin' But a Good Time'' may be disappointed by the result.