Director: Adam Shankman
MPAA Rating: R
Film Pulse Score: 6.5/10
There were moments during Rock of Ages when I couldn’t tell whether I was just watching a bad movie or whether the entire thing was one big self-aware joke.
There are just as many moments of inspiration as there are bad choices, and there are times – especially near the beginning – where the entire thing threatens to crumble into an incomprehensible mess.
The film does eventually right itself, mostly because of the presence of Tom Cruise, who not only proves he can sing a little, but elevates the movie whenever he is on the screen. Cruise portrays rock icon Stacee Jaxx as a combination of man-child, lost soul, drunk and poet. Jaxx is the distilled essence of “sex, drugs and rock & roll,” and Cruise rolls with every punch. He is without a doubt the best thing about the movie and anytime he appears, he raises the movie from its cheese-ball roots and lifts it into a very strange, very welcome place.
Unfortunately, most of the time Cruise isn’t on the screen, Rock of Ages loses some steam. The main problem lies with the leads, Julianne Hough (Footloose, Dancing with the Stars) and Diego Boneta. Neither is a very strong actor, and although both can sing, the film’s musical DNA makes it difficult for the included numbers to have any kind of emotional resonance. It’s clear that despite the movie being about them, Hough and Boneta are far outclassed by just about everyone in the supporting cast. Besides Cruise, there’s Alec Baldwin as a club owner, Russell Brand as his loopy assistant, Mary J Blige as the owner of a strip-club, Malin Akerman (in a very impressive turn) as a Rolling Stone reporter and the always reliable Paul Giamatti as Stacee Jaxx’s sleazy manager.
Of the supporting cast, only Catherine Zeta-Jones is a real failure. Despite her pedigree and her previous musical experience (2002’s Chicago, for which she won an Oscar), she seems to be overplaying everything here and she comes off as trying too hard.
In truth, she might be trying to make up for director Adam Shankman’s lack of directorial expertise. Shankman, who also directed 2007’s Hairspray, is a choreographer by trade and it shows. He doesn’t seem to understand film direction, as most of the musical numbers are shot flat, with very little variation in lighting or camera placement. For Hairspray, this style worked better as the production was naturally more colorful and the dancing carried most numbers. Rock of Ages, though, is primarily about arena rock, so it begged for more dynamic direction. Shankman, unfortunately, just isn’t capable enough.
The musical numbers themselves are actually surprisingly well sung, with the highlights being Cruise’s take on Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive,” a hilarious, tongue-in-cheek performance of “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” by Baldwin and Brand, and a bizarrely staged Cruise-Akerman team-up on Foreigner’s “I Wanna Know What Love Is.”
Overall, though, even when Rock of Ages is less than it could be, it still manages to be mostly a good time. If you’re able to turn your brain to “cheese” and just enjoy the ride, you’ll probably dig it even if it is just for Cruise’s performance. The lactose intolerant, however, should steer very very clear of this one.