Rock Of Ages review

Review Luke Savage 10 Jun 2012 - 19:01

Tom Cruise leads an all-star cast in the summer's biggest musical. Here's what we thought of Rock Of Ages...

You only need one word to sum up the appeal of Rock Of Ages – big. Big hair, big music, big costumes, big stars. Subtlety, you may have guessed already, doesn't live here. Fittingly for a film that celebrates the 80s, Rock Of Ages feels like a product of that decade’s most bombastic and pitch-perfect film, RoboCop, something Paul Verhoeven might have included in those faux adverts sandwiched between bouts of violence and Jesus parallels. It's like RoboCop's 6000 SUX car, a supped-up, high-performing behemoth. And the Warner Bros. marketing team might want to steal that car's tag line: big is most definitely back.

The thing is, RoboCop’s writer Ed Neumeier was joking, ridiculing the excess of that decade while revelling in it (a high-wire act that few films have walked so well). Rock Of Ages doesn’t want to joke. Not very often, anyway. Most of the time it wants to be very serious about how great 80s rock music is, like an over-eager fan shouting in your ear: 'Isn't this song great? Isn't other music rubbish?' It's frustrating, because when it’s in on the joke, the film becomes what you want it to be: a celebration of what was so great about the 80s, undercut with how ridiculous it all looks now.

Case in point: Rock Of Ages opens with its heroine sitting on a bus to Hollywood, pulling out a childhood photo, reading a heart-felt message on the back about following her dream, and then nodding reassuringly to herself. Before we can wonder how seriously to take this, coach passengers burst sporadically into song, and it seems like the film is telling us: not very seriously please.

In this moment, barely two minutes in, Rock Of Ages holds a terrific promise in its hands: artificial melodrama played for laughs with a thumping soundtrack and Tom Cruise waiting in the wings. Only, director Adam Shankman isn’t brave enough to deliver on this, and his screenwriters (including Tropic Thunder’s Justin Theroux and the Rock Of Ages stage show’s Chris D’Arienzo) don’t give him enough opportunity to repeat the trick.

They give him plenty of melodrama - in the form of a bland romance between said small town girl (Julianne Hough’s Sherrie Christian) and Diego Boneta’s rock-star-wannabe Drew Boley – yet very little laughs. And they give him lots of musical set pieces. Like, every five minutes, lots.

Rock Of Ages is so in thrall to including every memorable rock ballad that it barely pauses for breath between each one. It’s like an action film that moves from one shoot-out to the next; great in theory, and great in practice if you have a story to justify it, or the style to pull it off. But Rock Of Ages works in reverse – it creates a set of characters and a workmanlike story to service the songs, when what you really want is songs to tell a story.

Shankman is a choreographer-turned-director who’s a better choreographer than he is a director. Among his many gigs was choreographing Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s musical episode, and you kind of wish he'd paid more attention then to Joss Whedon (it's too late now; after The Avengers everyone will be doing it). Whedon used song and dance interludes as character revelations. Rock Of Ages uses them to fill the running time.

And Shankman shoots everything up close and personal, as if he’s trying to give you the best seat at the musical where you can read exactly what’s on everyone’s face. In an ideal world, that’s the point of making a film from a musical, surely? You can make big moments from the little things you can’t do on stage. Rock Of Ages teases us with a scattering of little moments – a nicely judged montage flashback breaks up one routine, Cruise offering up a crossword answer another – but they’re only brief moments of invention.

Thank God, then, for Cruise as rock God Stacee Jaxx. When he’s on, he gives Rock Of Ages a Spinal Tap-style push over the edge, a frisson that you wish could carry over to the rest of the film. His duet with Malin Akerman’s rock journalist is what you want the rest of the film to be – funny, sexually charged, and, like a perfect song, leaving you wanting more. Cruise just has to remove his sunglasses to create a wave of excitement. Mary J. Blige gets half a dozen song-and-dance numbers yet generates barely a ripple.

It’s inspired casting, especially when you consider Cruise’s next role is the about-face of Jack Reacher, a killing machine of few words next to Stacee Jaxx’s deranged, Axl Rose-styled showman. If only Shankman had carried this inspiration further down the cast list. Rock Of Ages is so tame for so much of its two hours that it needs the kind of spark Cruise brings.

Alec Baldwin’s been a comedic goldmine on 30 Rock, but he can’t do off-kilter. And his club owner Dennis Dupree is crying out for off-kilter to bring him to life. The film needs a lightning rod to bring it to life when Cruise isn't on screen, a Will Ferrell (apparently considered before Baldwin) to liven up the show. Instead we get Russell Brand in a Brummie accent. And someone needs to call Bryan Cranston’s agent and tell him to say no just once. His career renaissance since Malcolm In The Middle is a thing to behold and be grateful for, but overkill, as Rock Of Ages shows, can be a killer.

Those moments to which Rock Of Ages aspires, the unabashed enjoyment you get from listening to great music and forgetting that anything else matters, they're fleeting. We get one at the end, delivered with a Cruise mega-watt smile, but that's small reward. Rock Of Ages is busy telling us how good rock music is, but it never really shows us. It has one character judge being in a boy band as less morally acceptable than taking your clothes off for money.

Trouble is, Rock Of Ages is that very thing it lambasts. It's a harmless pop song, all gloss and polish, when what it really needs to be is a raunchy, smirking rock song. It's like Ozzy Osborne on an episode of Glee. Big, sure, but not all that funny.

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Disqus - noscript

not funny? can't take this site seriously from now on. 

My question is why waste your time and our time reviewing the throw-away crap. I'll take SPINAL TAP or THE RUTLES any day.

 spinal tap didn't even make 5 million! lol!

Interesting that you praised Cruise. I haven't seen this film but I felt, In MI4 that he rediscovered what it was that made him fun to watch. Maybe Mel Gibson can do the same.


If its such a waste of time, why did you bother reading it and commenting on it?

it's basically nonexistent to majority of the population. 

On the stage this is an amazing show!  I think it will only work live as the main narrator (russel Brand's character) interacts with the audience and there is so much tounge in cheek humour I don't think Russell could pull it off.  Save your money and see it live in London or in the States.

I pretty much agree with everything, seeing trailers for this I couldn't even believe this was greenlit. It is absolutely not even close to a given to have a passably-reasonable Broadway hair-metal almost-revue become a successful movie musical. 

I am not sure about your praise for Cruise. I firmly believe most actors worth their salt have some singing experience and/or should at least be trained to passably sing (singers who try to act are NOT in the same boat), but from everything I've seen, Cruise is just as forgettable as everyone else in the show. Are you sure you are not projecting? A mega-watt smile is simply not even close to enough to do a good acting job in this type of thing. 
To me Cruise always seems intense to the point of bursting a blood vessel. And if he is indeed injecting this role with a bit of 'fun', he's still picked a ridiculously over the top and unnecessary role to begin with.

Some of the other reviews I've read all rave about Zeta-Jones. But the role, the 'choreography', and the faces she pulls are an absolute disaster. Since she is indeed experienced in the field of musical theater, at least as far as present-day Hollywood goes, I am pinning ALL the blame on Shankman for that. He really seems to not have a clue what he is doing with this movie, and that is quite a scary thought. 

Baldwin, if I remember correctly, tried to get out of his contract at one point, but could not. Giamatti, on the other hand, seems like he does this kind of thing every other movie he signs on. He also routinely gets overpraise for that.

I believe you about Mary J Blige. Strong vocals is one thing, but I do not think this type of music is her forte, and can readily believe that neither is acting, especially if she is not feeling it, unlike for her music videos.

I disagree that Bryan Cranston is in any kind of 'renaissance'. He's had one successful show in which he showed considerable talent for many of the things one would be hired to do in a musical. Then, he had another vastly different show, also successful if more cult than mainstream. That doesn't make him any kind of player in the movie world, and taking bit roles here and there seems to generally be all that he can get in the film arena. Let's not pretend Red Tails or Contagion used him in any sort of memorable way.

Lastly, I do agree that maybe this movie doesn't even deserve the time of day, let alone a writeup. But the reason why I think it's getting it from me is my still-strong lack of belief that this has been greenlit. 

As soon as I saw that knob end Brand was in it, I knew this was going to be a turd.

It made £5m 30 years ago so that makes is none existent to the majority of the population????????????

£5 million pounds in 1984 will be worth £13.3 million in 2012

Really not sure I'll be seeing this, never did like musicals (exept for Hoodwinked)

That's pretty sweeping. At least in the world of comedy films (which, I know this might sound weird, but some people do watch) its influence is huge and it's widely mentioned.

Spinal Tap is brilliant. Rock of Ages is not. It is like a bad movie-length episode of Glee. If you like Glee you'll love this film. If you don't happen to like Glee or if it annoys you just a little - this film is not for you. It is rubbish - you will wonder what redeeming features it may have even for Glee fans - there are none, This film really disappoints on every level.

 This review seems to be what I'd expect based on the trailers. I saw the show twice in San Francisco. The first time (free tickets) reluctantly. The second time (again, free tickets) I was excited! What made the show work on stage was how self aware it was/is. It wasn't played as camp, just fun. Professional from beginning to end, it just didn't take itself too seriously.
When the casting was announced for the movie, I was almost instantly turned off. A talented cast (except I can't stand Cruise), yes... just not for these parts. Then I read that they dumped one of my favorite characters (the is he or isn't he gay German boy) and upped the part of Jaxx. I've decided to sit this one out. Everything that was charmingly fun about the stage show seems to have been bloated for the movie.
If you get a chance to see this on stage... do so!

It made £5m at the cinema box office on release - that doesn't count the almost 30 years of VHS and DVD sales (and it has become a massive hit on home video).

Show me a musician who doesn't understand the meaning of 'turning up to 11' or the perils of being a drummer and then we can consider your sweeping generalisation.

i'm not sure what this reviewer is trying to say. he criticizes the movie by saying it's a "pop song," yet singles out the sister christian bus scene as one of the high points. to me, that scene was the most groan-inducing moment in the movie -- more so than even the z-guyeezz. people in the theatre were actually laughing during that scene -- not at the humor, but at the ridiculousness of it.

I've never seen spinal tap. Not a big musical fan. the three I liked were Grease, Little Shop of Horrors, and yes I'll admit Cry Baby. hahaha

I like tom cruise thought, even though it's not cool to now. I mean, he's got a lot of great movies that holds up to any actor. How can you be the coolest guy in the world for 20 years then just all of a sudden be a loser. Don't get that, nobody's perfect, man...js

Never seen Spinal Tap and likes Grease? Goodbye. 

I took that sister christian bus scene as deliberately ridiculous - or at least a glimpse of how deliberately ridiculous the film could potentially be.  groans are good if the filmmakers are in on them, but it didn't seem like they were for the most part.  They played it safe. 

Tanya - you're basing your opinion of Cruise's performance in the film on a trailer?  At least see the film before you write him off.

I've been wanting to see this for a while 

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