Movies: Rock of Ages. Will It Rock You?

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.


  1. jim says

    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 screen…best wait til I can watch it at home.

  2. WebHybrid says

    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.

  3. DrMikey says

    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?

  4. PDX Guy says

    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.

  5. Red Assault says

    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.

  6. Mike says

    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!

  7. Joseph says

    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)

  8. woodroad34d says

    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.

  9. Michaelandfred says

    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.

  10. Michaelandfred says

    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.

  11. Gary says

    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.

  12. Pitt90 says

    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.

  13. Tim says

    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

  14. A_gay_guy says

    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.

  15. DrMikey says

    Did see it last night at a screening – didn’t pay. Rarely would I shell out $12/ticket for a film. This one was 2 hours of free fun. The performances were all ‘dumb fun’ cute, to quote the director. Target demographic for this movie is probably 45-50. The boy band shtick toward the end is pretty funny. I’m still waiting for ‘Les Mis’.

  16. ratbastard says

    Oh yeah, all ‘The Gays’ are just dying to see and sing along to this movie. Right. OK.

    Am I the only homosexual man who doesn’t like musicals, campy old movies, etc.?

  17. Drew says

    Oh, please. Moulin Rouge and Hairspray are faggy and for girls. Just because something with a similar plot (daresay most of any literature throughout history falls in line with one of about a dozen tropes) has been done before, doesn’t mean people who would be attracted to one incarnation would be attracted to all the other previous
    incarnations (see: Spiderman).
    My dad and I saw it last night and he equated it to Grease. I told him I never really actually saw Grease, but I could see what he meant.
    If you’re a fan of musicals, then at least be happy that the people who may not be remotely interested in Grease, Hairspray, or Moulin Rouge, (such as most of my compatriots), would like Rock of Ages.
    Now enough with my venting rant, but seriously: Stop being so bitchy! Jesus.

  18. Jon says

    Funny how everyone is hyper-fixated on Tom Cruise, and no one has even mentioned the kiss between Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand. They practically walk down the aisle together. The entire scene is super awkward, but it’s still there.

  19. John C says

    Loved this movie. Considered it the Glee for those who graduated in the ’80s. It was the soundtrack of our generation and I looked around to see many of the auduience singing along with the movie.

    Was the acting sometimes over the top, and did I find Tom Cruise creepy hand to boob thing awfull, well yes. But the music made up for it.

    It was full of great music, some unexpect laughs out of nowhere and you will find that you had a decent time.

    And as for the critic of BURLESQUE vs ROA. That storyline is also a sign of the times. I worked at a club on Miami Beach in the early ’90s that was popular, but always a bad weekend from shutting down, and let’s not forget Studio 54. If you go see it, go just to have a good time, and I feel if we we still had late night cult classics, like Pink Floyd The Wall and Rocky Horror, this movie is just off enough to do a double feature.

  20. Alexia says

    Tom Cruise has been an inspiration for me as an actor ever since I first saw him as a youngster. He blew me away in Tom Gun and then continued to do so role after role. I have no doubt this role will be any different. I love watching movies and writing about talented actors as a hobby on my frequent business trips for Dish. It is wonderful to bring along a hobby to enhance routine; it stimulates creativity, which helps my work as well. Subscribing to Blockbuster @Home gives me the resources from movies and documentaries to learn plenty about the actor, which is awesome. Airport waiting and hotel boredom is the perfect place to write; passion is never a waste.

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