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. 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'.

    Posted by: DrMikey | Jun 17, 2012 10:14:14 AM

  2. 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.?

    Posted by: ratbastard | Jun 17, 2012 10:57:39 AM

  3. 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.

    Posted by: Drew | Jun 17, 2012 11:00:24 AM

  4. Ratbastard, you're absolutely not the only one.

    To plenty of us musicals don't make a bit of sense and are odd.

    Posted by: Paul R | Jun 17, 2012 4:36:05 PM

  5. @Paul R: but I'm sure Lord of the Rings and Star Wars make perfect sense.

    Rolls eyes.

    Posted by: Joseph | Jun 17, 2012 6:46:00 PM

  6. I went to see "Prometheus" which after a promising start turns into a major disappointment.

    Posted by: jaragon | Jun 17, 2012 6:49:17 PM

  7. 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.

    Posted by: Jon | Jun 17, 2012 11:03:00 PM

  8. 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.

    Posted by: John C | Jun 18, 2012 1:28:17 PM

  9. 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.

    Posted by: Alexia | Jun 20, 2012 12:10:44 AM

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