Two of this summer’s movies, Rock of Ages and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, will be released on DVD this month, and while on the surface they have nothing to do with each other, I’ve been describing them by comparison all summer.
These two movies have one important thing in common: cheese. Big, gooey globs of cheese. Rock of Ages isn’t good–it’s gouda. I’m pretty sure Tom Cruise’s fake gun-in-the-pants tattoo would shoot cheese curds. Instead of film reels, it was distributed on wheels of cheddar. It’s that cheesy. But I love it.
Fair warning: If you hope to see these movies completely unspoiled, you should probably not read further. But I really don’t think these are the sort of films where your enjoyment will be diminished by knowing what happens going in. Songs are sung, hair is teased, and Abraham Lincoln is assassinated at the theater. You get the gist.
First let’s get the main objection I’ve heard to Rock of Ages right out of the way: Tom Cruise. I get it. He went completely off the deep end, couch-jumping, psychiatrist-hating, Scientology-loving wacky. You don’t even want to like him anymore. But do you remember when you did like him? The Outsiders, Risky Business, Legend, Top Gun, Cocktail. That’s two from 1983, and one each from 1985, 1986, and 1988. Well, Rock of Ages is an 80s movie. It just happened to get made in 2012. So reaaaaally you’re watching 1980s Tom Cruise, which is perfectly acceptable to enjoy. Go right ahead. Everybody did. And it’s hard not to. His staggering, swaggering, long-haired impression of Axl Rose steals this movie.
That’s not to say that there’s not plenty else to enjoy. Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin’s duet. Mary J. Blige being fabulous. Julianne Hough, who plays Sherrie Christian, you know, as in “Sister Christian, oh the time has come,” which is the movie’s opening song. Oh, and the usually fashionable Catherine Zeta-Jones doing your 1980 jazz-class routine to “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” down the aisle of a church in shoulder pads and culottes. Oh my. The cheese. The beautiful, wonderful, hilarious cheese.
What makes it precisely perfect is that Rock of Ages knows exactly how cheesy it is and milks that for all it’s worth. There’s where the comparison comes in. Abraham Lincoln is also made of cheese–but it doesn’t know it.
Poor, poor Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter tries to be a serious movie. I know, with that title? But it does. When we got to the scene with the crumpled fork flying out of the screen (in 3D!), my friend leaned over and said, “I feel bad laughing. I don’t think this movie wants me to laugh at it, does it?”
It all seems OK at first, with a completely reasonable balance of cheese passing through what you expected from a movie with that name. The wink-wink, nudge-nudge of each subsequent historical figure introducing himself as if he were just some other character. The extensive exposition of Lincoln’s childhood, vampires, vampire hunters, the importance of souls, and blah blah blah.
Then the Confederacy turns out to be full of vampire soldiers. And there’s the fork. And that line–this is the one place I won’t spoil it for you, but there’s one line near the end under the train trestle. You’ll know it when you hear it. That’s the line you hear coming ten miles away, and it puts the whole movie right over the appropriate-cheese line. That’s the moment I realized this movie takes itself way too seriously, and I gave up trying not to laugh at it.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. If you haven’t seen it, you really should give it one time through. But I doubt it’s something you’ll return to again and again. Rock of Ages, on the other hand–that’s a DVD I’m going to wear out.