Saturday, April 13, 2024

Tom Cruise’s Odd, “Zoolander”- like Odyssey in “Rock of Ages”


I’ll be honest. I have not seen “Rock of Ages” on Broadway. The music–if that’s what you call it–is the worst of the early 80s. When I was listening to Elvis Costello, the Pretenders, the Clash, the Jam, the Police–this other, awful stuff from Journey, Kansas, Whitesnake, Poison– whatever was not on my radar. So a whole Broadway show about singers with big hair and screechy falsettos? Not for yours truly. And then of course Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” got a renewed life thanks to the final episode of “The Sopranos.” Oy vey.

Now we have the movie “Rock of Ages,” from the director of “Hairspray,” Adam Shankman. “Hairspray” was a clever spoof on stage and on screen. John Travolta was genius casting. The whole thing was a big wink.

“Rock of Ages” is turgid, haphazard, and so frenetically directed that I think it exacerbated my Vertigo. Cameras swoop around, some of the people seem like they’re on turntables. You will need Dramamine, trust me.

Tom Cruise is the nominal star, playing dopey, big haired singer Stacey Jaxx. He’s sort of modeled on Bret Michaels. (Michaels gets a special thank you at the end of the film.) But Cruise plays him as if he’s channeling Ben Stiller as “Zoolander.” I don’t get it. He can’t sing, that much is established. He also lacks any rock sexiness. Simply not wearing a shirt for an entire movie only makes you Iggy Pop, or Anthony Keidis, or the guy from Grand Funk Railroad. But otherwise, Cruise seems like an antiseptic rock star. We’ll give him credit for trying something different.

It doesn’t help that the “Rock of Ages” script is as witless as the songs. It opens with a scene that simply copies the great bus singalong from Cameron Crowe’s classic, “Almost Famous.” You know we’re in trouble right away. A lot of “Rock of Ages” has a familiar feel to it. They’re so desperate to get to these mostly awful songs, that character development is an afterthought.

Now, it may be if you grew up on this music, “Rock of Ages” will be fun. There are some nice performances by Malin Ackerman, Paul Giamatti, and believe it or not Mary J. Blige. (The latter is the most pleasant surprise of all.) But the two young leads–Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta–are close to dreadful. Alec Baldwin couldn’t look worse. Russell Brand was better off trying to get the Greek on time.

Look, some people are going to love this movie. The Broadway show is still a hit. To me, it was like a jukebox from Hell. But even I enjoy a guilty pleasure–“Sister Christian” has always been one of mine. And the best song of that entire episode in rock history–Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is”– is well placed.

You can listen to the whole soundtrack at


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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