Rockers in film -- Our biased survey and rating of performers like Ice-T, Madonna, Debbie Harry, and others

You can’t wait to see Rush. Drugs! Violence! Gun battles! Oscar possibilities! The lights go down, the previews come up-and so does your popcorn when you realize, oh, my God, that’s noted thespian Gregg Allman up there, playing a dealer!

Rush is merely the most recent example of a rock star trying to prove he or she can do more than lip-synch in a video. In the dubious genre of rock actors, we’ve been subjected lately to Mick Jagger as a futuristic, crevice-faced bounty hunter in Freejack and the melted-down Vanilla Ice oddly miscast (not!) as an obnoxious young white rapper in Cool as Ice. As we prepare for the next theatrical free-fall — John Mellencamp in his own Falling From Grace — here’s a select guide to notable and not-so-notable acting turns by pop stars, with their performances rated in descending order. Some of these musicians, like David Bowie, Sting, and Madonna, have turned up in more than one film, but in each case we’ve chosen what we feel is a representative example of their cinematic oeuvre. We’ve excluded Elvis movies (a genre unto themselves), films in which rockers make cameos as themselves, and starring vehicles by the likes of Cher and Bette Midler (rockers in name only). So, lights…camera..air guitar!

Mick Jagger
Movie: Performance, 1970
Role: Retired rock recluse Turner
Highlight: Very convincing as cross-dressing, hallucinogenic drug-taking rock dude disillusioned with the music industry
Best line: Do you think I should wash my hair?”
Does character sing? Yes, but at least it’s not a song from one of his solo albums.
Grade: B+

David Bowie
Movie: Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, 1983
Role: POW Jack Cellers, an Anzac major held captive by the Japanese during World War II
Highlight: Looking thirsty as he is buried up to his neck in sand and left to die
Best line: ”I’m afraid I’ve not had many romantic interludes of great importance.”
Does character sing? Yes, the gospel song ”Rock of Aged” —ah, ”Ages”
Grade: B

Phil Collins
Movie: Buster, 1988
Role: Charming rogue/British train robber Buster Edwards
Highlight: Collins’ short, balding, unctuous persona ideal for role of short, balding, unctuous criminal
Best line: (To wife Julie Walters) ”I done it all for you, you ungrateful cow!”
Does character sing? No, but the soundtrack happens to include to Collins songs, ”Two Hearts” and ”Groovy Kind of Love.”
Grade: B

Debbie Harry
Movie: Hairspray, 1988
Role: Velma Von Tussle, Miss Soft Crab of 1945 and mother to teenage dance-show star
Highlight: Threatens daughter with Catholic school for dancing to ”colored music” on The Corny Collins Show
Best line: (to daughter as she prepares to pop a pimple) ”Hold still.”
Does character sing? No, and a duet with screen hubby Sonny Bono would’ve been nice.
Grade: B

Tina Turner
Movie: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, 1985
Role: Brazen, cocky Auntie Entity, ”power-mad dominatrix” in postapocalypse future
Highlight: Flaring her nostrils and flashing cleavage that seems to have weathered nuclear attack
Best line: (to Mel Gibson) ”You can shovel s—, can’t you?”
Does character sing? No, but Turner supplies the theme song, ”We Don’t Need Another Hero.”
Grade: B-

Gene Simmons
Movie: Runaway, 1984
Role: Dr. Charles Luther, mad creator of evil robots
Highlight: During fight scenes with Tom Selleck, Simmons’ surly mug and slicked-back hair are far scarier than his old Kiss makeup could ever be.
Best line: “Aaaaaiiiirrrrgh!” (as he is punctured by poisonous robots)
Does character sing? No, but he uses enough bad language to placate Kiss fans.
Grade: B-

Movie: New Jack City, 1991
Role: Streetwise renegade cop with the Little Rascals-like moniker Scotty Appleton
Highlight: Scowling and calling costar Judd Nelson a ”biscuithead”
Best line: (To drug lord Wesley Snipes) ”I wanna shoot you so bad, bitch, my d—‘s hard!”
Does character sing? No, but his dialogue (”How many more people got to be killed?!”) might just as well be rap lyrics.
Grade: B-

Joan Jett
Movie: Light of Day, 1987
Role: Patti Rasnick, unemployed mom and fledgling rocker who looks and sings just like Joan Jett
Highlight: Playing air guitar as she explains to brother Joey (Michael J. Fox) how their “band” could be better
Best line: ”I’ve been trying to live my life by an idea — rock & roll! That’s an idea!”
Does character sing? Yes, but she has to share the stage with Alex P. Keaton.
Grade: C+

Michael Jackson
Movie: The Wiz, 1978
Role: Garbage-filled scarecrow sporting sequinless white gloves
Highlight: Seems perfectly at home cavorting with costumed characters, tiny animals, and dancing munchkins
Best line: ”Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown — W. Shakespeare.”
Does character sing? Yes, but stick with Thriller.
Grade: C-

Movie: Dick Tracy, 1990
Role: Sultry nightclub warbler and self-described ”cheap floozy” Breathless Mahoney — i.e., Madonna in 10 years
Highlight: Breathing heavily while spouting the line, ”Aren’t you going to frisk me?”
Best line: ”You don’t know whether you want to hit me or kiss me. I get a lot of that.”
Does character sing? Yes, unfortunately, as Madonna tries, and fails, to prove she can handle ersatz show tunes
Grade: C-

Movie: The Bride, 1985
Role: Baron Frankenstein, brooding aristocrat and part-time mad scientist
Highlight: Rejected when he tries to bed Jennifer Beals (as the Bride of Frankenstein)
Best line: Aaaaiiieeeeeee!!” (as he is hurled from the roof of his castle by the jealous monster he created)
Does character sing? Are you kidding? This is serious drama.
Grade: D+

Bob Dylan
Movie: Hearts of Fire, 1987
Role: Billy Parker, dissipated rocker-turned-chicken farmer
Highlight: None-mostly mumbles and sings badly. Hmmm…
Best line: (to the hotel owner when asked if he’d like flowers in is room) ”Yeah. I’d like some pansies.”
Does character sing? Yes, but he’s forced to duet with metal wannabe Fiona.
Grade: D