***Since it recently released on DVD here’s my original review of Rock of Ages!***
This is an odd review for me to write. On the one hand Rock of Ages is a crappy movie musical with only its songs and a prominent acting performance to give it any credibility; and on the other hand I enjoyed it. I’m dying to see the Broadway play, which the film holds a tenuous connection to, and after seeing the film I’m even more intrigued to see the play to compare. Sure the movie is over-the-top and only one story is worth seeing, but I never felt bored. I didn’t check my watch every 30 minutes (a la Prometheus) and left the theater saying “that was surprising.” The film is bad, but it’s bad in a way that makes it watchable. So here are four things I liked and five things I hated about Rock of Ages.
Sherri (Julianne Hough) is small town girl who ends up in Los Angeles getting a job at the prominent Bourbon Room on the Strip. Once there she meets Drew (Diego Boneta) and the two fall in love. As their love blossoms the owner of the Bourbon Room Jack Dupree (Alec Baldwin) is about the lose the club and is relying on a farewell concert from tired rocker Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) to save them all.
5 THINGS I LOVED
1. The music
Everyone loves 80s music and the 26 songs used throughout the movie make the two-hour runtime sail by. There’s music from Journey, Guns N’ Roses, and Foreigner that I both recognized and didn’t. Sure the movie breaks continuity by including Extreme’s “More Than Words” (released in 1991) but whatever. I never looked at my watch because I was too wrapped up in the enjoyment of songs I recognized and loved. It’s a pretty broad reason to like this movie, “because it’s a musical” but I love musicals so sue me!
2. Tom Cruise and Malin Akerman
I was so surprised by placing this as high as I did. I enjoy Tom Cruise in movies but I’ve never once thought of him in a sexual sense…until today! He just oozes sexuality as Stacee Jaxx from the tattoos to the constant placement of the camera at crotch level, this movie makes Cruise a sexy guy. And it doesn’t help that he’s pretty funny as the drugged-out rocker who goes on and on with the most bizarre speeches that made me think he came up with them on the cuff. His character should be a scumbag (and in the play he is) but Cruise makes him likeable. He’s equally complimented by Malin Akerman as Rolling Stone reporter Constance. I’ve always thought Akerman was funny but here I wanted to see her make more movies period! She’s funny, she’s dominant, and she has the best seduction scene with Cruise that should be seen by everyone. Had the movie been purely about these two I think it would have been amazing…sadly they’re marginalized in favor of two white-bread idiots.
3. Catherine Zeta-Jones as Patricia Whitmore
Zeta-Jones is immortalized as Velma Kelly in Chicago but she does a good job with the weak character of Patricia Whitmore. Whitmore wants to bring down the Bourbon Room as a den of sex and when Jones is on a roll with her vitriol its funny because of how campy it is. Her Tipper Gore caricature is spot-on and she does an ironic and hilarious performance of “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” complete with thrusting and gyrating.
4. T.J. Miller’s cameo
T.J. Miller has a cameo around the second half of the movie where Stacee calls Rolling Stone looking for Constance. I’ve been a fan of Miller for a bit and he’s the one character who doesn’t seem know what the hell is going on. I’d like to think director Adam Shankman pulled him off the street and told him to answer the phone. Miller’s delivery and expression all sound genuine and I wanted more than few minutes with him. When Miller puts the phone down and says “Okay that doesn’t sound like I’m going to be killed tonight” it felt like a completely real expression.
5 THINGS I HATED
1. The distinction between professional singers and non-professional singers
I wasn’t expecting all Broadway singers but when the audience becomes painfully aware of whom sings professionally and who doesn’t, it’s a mark against your film. The two leads are such weak singers that when Mary J. Blige arrives or Rock of Ages alum Constantine Maroulis sings two lines; you’re taken right out of the movie. Many of the performances feel like karaoke performances or Glee performances. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if many of these actors end up appearing on Glee at some point.
2. Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough
I don’t know who I felt was worst in terms of acting. Let’s start with Boneta whose best known as a CW actor and that’s where he should stay. There is nothing “rock” about this guy from his baby face to his perfectly shaggy hair. He makes hang-dog looks throughout the entire movie and aside from a ripped shirt and a little chest hair I didn’t believe he was legal to work in a bar. In fact Hough looks older than him! He’s a whiny actor (complimented by Hough’s whiny nasal twang during songs) and I just wanted him to go away. I miss Zac Efron! I enjoyed Hough in Footloose but let’s not make her sing again. As mentioned, she sounds very nasally in her songs and it hurts the ears. It’s funny that a big part of Sherri’s second act story is she becomes a stripper (you know the fully clothed type of strippers in movies) and is ashamed. Yet every music video performance she does in this movie involves her swinging on poles and leaning against walls so what’s the problem? Much like Boneta she’s not compelling or particularly engaging.
3. The love story between Drew and Sherri
When the movie focuses firmly on Drew and Sherri you can easily tune out. It’s such a saccharine, trite love story in contrast to the grit and dirt of the 80s rock lifestyle. When you have Stacee Jaxx playing Axel Rose soaked in wine and women, it’s kind of laughable to cut to this Valentine’s Day-esque story of cutesy pizza parties and chaste sex scenes. The one “sex” scene between Drew and Sherri is just a montage of them kissing, again almost fully clothed. Drew and Sherri are like those two kids in middle school who hold hands and talk about music. They’re cute but you sure as hell don’t want to spend two hours with them.
4. Where the hell is “Oh Sherri?”
This is being thrown out all over the message boards, how do you have a character named Sherri and not sing this Journey song? Considering the majority of the film’s songs are Journey jams, it’s a glaring slight. Director Adam Shankman is alleged to have said it was too “on-the-nose” but when you have a song involving a man singing to a girl’s ass I doubt including “Oh Sherri” will rile up audiences. The girl’s name is Sherri and the whole reason in the play is because they sing that song!
5. Mary J. Blige as Justice
The one woman of color and you ruin the character! Blige is a beautiful singer and an iffy actress but there’s no reason for her performance. She mentions a boyfriend being thrown out once and that’s the extent of her storyline. Oh and she runs a strip club. Okay…is that it? Literally she sings backup on everyone else and runs a strip club. The script does give her one of the more disturbing lines when she tells Sherri one of the ways for her to gain respect is to get on a stripper pole. Now, the line is meant to give encouragement to Sherri to make more money but it comes out like women can only gain respect from grinding for men. It’s a poorly written line that made me downright despise her character for the rest of the film.
That’s my thoughts on Rock of Ages…what are yours?
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.