Film and TV | Nathaniel Rogers | Tom Cruise

Movies: Rock of Ages. Will It Rock You?

He Will. He Will. Rock You ♫ (Tom Cruise in "Rock of Ages")



At a recent press screening in Manhattan, heavily attended by the gays, the choreographer turned So You Think You Can Dance judge turned movie director Adam Shankman cheerfully introduced the screening of his latest stage-to-screen musical ROCK OF AGES. It's his first musical since the exuberant Hairspray (2007) and he charmingly expressed his nerves and excitement about showing it off. He invited the assembled to not take the movie too seriously ("dumb fun!") and sing along with it if they felt the urge. I was sitting near the front and as Shankman bounded up the stairs to exit from the back, he shouted out  'Oh, and I'm gay!' as a "no shit" style punchline. The crowd laughed and the lights went out. 

The energy of Shankman's introduction can't have hurt the screening but his invitation to sing-along proved redundant. It doesn't take long for the movie to send out its own karaoke invitation.  In the jukebox musical's first number we meet a small town girl, living in a lonely world, who takes a midnight train bus going anywhere. Her name is Sherry Christian (Julianne Hough) but she's not exactly going anywhere. She's purposefully headed to Los Angeles to try to make it in the music business. No sooner has she begun singing "Sister Christian" (get it? Um… haha?) than the unnamed extras on the bus start grabbing solo lines from the verses until the whole bus is singing about Sister Christian. Her time has come!  

Hough & Bonita as 'Sherry & Drew'  in "Rock of Ages"

Upon her arrival in the big city, this girl from the sticks lands both a new job and a new bartender/songwriter boyfriend (Cam Gigandet) at a famous club operated by a beleaguered old pro (Cher) and her gayish sidekick (Stanley Tucci). The club is having financial trouble thanks in part to a mercenary money man (Eric Dane) and hopes that a big voice (Christina Aguilera) will resurrect its fortu--- 



My apologies. Given the identical plots I kept wishing I was watching Burlesque instead. Here's a handy chart in case I lost you.


Like Hairspray before it, Rock of Ages has a healthy sometimes wickedly funny sense of humor and dynamite choreography, but the comparisons (and most of the praise) end there. Hough and Boneta are attractive leads but you need star power and chemistry to headline and they're as exciting as cardboard multiplex advertisements once they're sharing their scenes with bonafide movie stars like Catherine Zeta -Jones and Tom Cruise.

Tom Cruise is so game for his role as a drugged up rock legend Stacee Jaxx that he enters the movie in assless chaps (his own idea according to Shankman). His star turn is both the worst thing and the best thing about the movie given that he's supremely watchable and only half costumed but also arguably way too intense / emotionally broken for the jokiness the movie is aiming for. Malin Akerman is his romantic foil -- a Rolling Stone 'slutty librarian' type of reporter. Akerman is equally game to slapstick the sex up but I kept wishing an actress with a more distinctive gift for goofy carnality and Cruise Chemistry would have played the role instead. Was Cameron Diaz busy? Tone deaf? 

Catherine Zeta-Jones, who should only make musicals until she drops (by gunpoint if necessary) gets the cartoon energy right. She plays a pious activist with a secret who wants to shut down the sinful club. Sadly, Shankman doesn't seem to know what he's got in front of him in Zeta-Jones (used only fleetingly and not well at all after her secret comes out.) 

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Church Ladies sing "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"

Shankman is weirdly even more clueless about Mia Michaels' choreography even though he's a choreographer himself. The numbers are so frenetically edited (even Zeta-Jones's Pat Benatar routine) that they make Moulin Rouge! feel absolutely restrained. And Moulin Rouge! had valid reasons for its chaos aesthetic!  Shankman and his beleaguered editors (so. many. cuts) jerk so frequently from camera angle to camera angle and from one blurry close-ups of faces in motion to another that you'd think they were making a movie about rave culture rather than a movie about 80s hair metal power ballads. Where is the slow build, power reveal and repetitive totemic iconography of those aggressively dumb-fun classic songs in the visuals for this dumb-fun movie? The movie is such a chaotic mess that it's often more enjoyable to close your eyes and listen ….and Adam, baby, Adam. We have iTunes for that!

To be fair to Shankman, almost everyone making musicals these days needs these two lessons. One in basic human anatomy, the other in filmmaking

  1. Dancing takes place in the body, not in the face. 
  2. The purpose of 24 frames per second is to simulate actual movement, not to show us 24 different pictures.

I have no idea whether audiences will respond to Rock of Ages which is enjoyable and funny in spurts. Its curio value may well play better at home where you can sing along or ignore at your leisure free from off key embarrassment. It's easy to imagine it being a huge hit at a karaoke themed thirty or fortysomething slumber party but who throws those?  If Rock of Ages would like to become a smash hit I suggest sending Adam Shankman on tour with it to introduce each and every screening. That'd be a grueling tour for any director with a movie on 3,000 plus screens several times a day but if anyone has the inexhaustible energy for it it might well be Shankman.


Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.

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  1. When did Tom Cruise become a woman?

    Oh wait.

    Posted by: Paul R | Jun 16, 2012 3:39:17 PM

  2. The NPR critic actually gave ROA a decent review on Morning Edition yesterday, surprised me. Maybe it's not as bad as I was anticipating. Better wait til it's on disc tho. Endless jumpcuts make me crazy and I'd probably end up screaming at the wait til I can watch it at home.

    Posted by: jim | Jun 16, 2012 3:47:40 PM

  3. I have lost any and all interest in films with Mr. Cruise in them.

    Posted by: theotherlee | Jun 16, 2012 3:56:55 PM

  4. Didn't like Hairspray, not even a tiny bit. And here we have the repulsive Miss Tommy and the equally repulsive (but butcher) Mr. Zeta-Jones to keep me away. Neither should ever be seen or heard.

    Posted by: WebHybrid | Jun 16, 2012 4:33:46 PM

  5. Shankman = talent-free.

    Posted by: solice | Jun 16, 2012 4:33:50 PM

  6. My Mom invited me to take her to a screening of the movie at the Academy this evening in Beverly Hills, where Adam Shankman is listed to introduce it and follow with a Q&A. Considering the average age of the majority of Academy members I doubt if many will be singing along, so I may have to save myself from embarrassment. Shall I ask him after the film if he is indeed gay as he so publically announced in NYC?

    Posted by: DrMikey | Jun 16, 2012 5:01:11 PM

  7. Why do they keep casting these $cientology homophones in these musicals? There is no way I am going to make any effort to put my money in their pockets. And from the early box office reports, this is already a dud. What a waste of a decent concept.

    Posted by: PDX Guy | Jun 16, 2012 5:05:03 PM

  8. Oops, homophobes, that is.

    Posted by: PDX Guy | Jun 16, 2012 5:27:33 PM

  9. Let's see... Shankman has cast John Travolta, Queen Latifah and Tom Cruise in musicals that use either songs or stories from the 80s. Yes, Hairspray is set in the 60s , but it's based on a John Waters movie from 1987. So he's got a thing for loud, bombastic nostalgia, closeted movie stars and unoriginal ideas.

    Great. Just what we needed.

    Posted by: Red Assault | Jun 16, 2012 5:44:00 PM

  10. I was reading it's a 75 million dollar bomb. It needed to open at 20 million dollars intake, it took in about five. Flop.

    Posted by: MarkUs | Jun 16, 2012 6:31:39 PM

  11. I love Tom Cruise, I fell in love with TC in Top Gun. I know he is not gay but I can still dream. Some people say bad things about him but we know they are they are jealous and hateful because he is successful and famous. Tom is still eye candy to me. If we want to be treated equally and fairly we should treat all people equally and fairly. Of course we know that there are some anti-gay Christian trolls who post here pretending to be gay and they say bad things about people to make it look like gays are saying bad things but we know who they are. We love you Tom, Rock on!

    Posted by: Mike | Jun 16, 2012 6:44:34 PM

  12. Man, the editing in modern films is overkill. Especially in musicals. Some comparisons (and I'm only selecting up-tempo numbers here):

    "Get Happy" from Summer Stock (1950): 6 cuts

    "That's Entertainment" from The Band Wagon (1953): 5 cuts

    "America" from West Side Story (1961): 31 cuts

    "It's a Fine Life" from Oliver! (1968): 17 cuts

    "Mein Herr" from Cabaret (1972): 55 cuts

    "You're the One that I Want" from Grease (1978): 34 cuts

    "Cell Block Tango" from Chicago (2002): 220 cuts (estimated; probabl more)

    Posted by: Joseph | Jun 16, 2012 6:45:50 PM

  13. I never see that homophonic homophobe be anything other than himself. He's a personality, but not a great actor. He's always shrill and unemotionally unsympathetic. No, I'm not jealous, just unimpressed and unengaged.

    Posted by: woodroad34d | Jun 16, 2012 8:00:58 PM

  14. Tom Cruise? Pity. I'll find something else to do.

    Posted by: evan | Jun 16, 2012 8:02:07 PM

  15. No Tommy Girl for me! Yuck!

    Posted by: Iban4yesu | Jun 16, 2012 8:23:06 PM

  16. I stopped watching Cruise movies after he destroyed Interview with a Vampire. Now I skip the movie and imagine him playing the exact same character hes played in every movie since Top Gun, with different lines, and save $15.

    Posted by: Michaelandfred | Jun 16, 2012 9:04:38 PM

  17. I stopped watching Cruise movies after he destroyed Interview with a Vampire. Now I skip the movie and imagine him playing the exact same character hes played in every movie since Top Gun, with different lines, and save $15.

    Posted by: Michaelandfred | Jun 16, 2012 9:04:40 PM

  18. WEEKEND: Box Office Flops For Cruise & Sandler. So, it's a flop. The best thing about it was the possibility of getting Julianne Hough away from that "Idol" guy. Cruise was an essay in narcissism as usual. Catherine Zeta-Jones did Bipolar proud. The years before Rock were a much better fit for we gay boys. I much prefer swirling violins to guitar solos.

    Posted by: Gary | Jun 16, 2012 9:41:03 PM

  19. I'd rather go through root canal than to pay and watch that piece of crap.

    Posted by: TerryA | Jun 16, 2012 10:27:53 PM

  20. I just find Cruise to be a yawn. I don't find him attractive, and I haven't liked him in anything since "Risky Business." So, yah, I'll be skipping this.

    Posted by: Pitt90 | Jun 17, 2012 12:58:18 AM

  21. I simply can't bring myself to watch anything Cruise is in. Yeah I'm a hater, and he's a homophobe so it all equals out.

    Posted by: GeoffM | Jun 17, 2012 2:05:06 AM

  22. Waiting for the reveal that Cruise did his singing like Beals did her dancing in "Flashdance."

    Posted by: Sean Maloney | Jun 17, 2012 2:36:25 AM

  23. Tom Cruise is the best thing about this film. His performance was a hybrid of Les Grossman from Tropic Thunder and Frank T. J. Mackey from Magnolia. No one commits like Cruise, and his body is proof of that

    Posted by: Tim | Jun 17, 2012 7:37:12 AM

  24. Wack.

    Posted by: Munro | Jun 17, 2012 8:22:32 AM

  25. WHY ISN'T THIS FILM A CINEMATIC MASTERPIECE. Just a lot of bitter bitches.

    This movie is meant to be a sing along. I loved every second as each song came on and nostalgia kicked in.

    I went for the music and I got a couple cheap laughs, Tom Cruise in a decent role, and Alec B.

    Posted by: A_gay_guy | Jun 17, 2012 10:10:32 AM

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