Film Review: Rock of Ages

Tom Cruise in a scene from Rock of Ages.
Tom Cruise stars in 'Rock of Ages' - Photo © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc

Reviewed by Ian Forbes, Sobering Conclusion

Don’t stop believin’. That’s both a Journey lyric and Hollywood hoping that musicals can make a full-scale comeback. With Rock of Ages, the Broadway hit now turned feature film is poised to please audiences neither looking for alien invasions nor animated animals.

The story is your typical tale of young kids hoping to become rock stars, fighting against the negative influences of a 1987 Los Angeles scene doing its best to corrupt everything it touches. All of the archetypal characters necessary to fill out the paint-by-numbers script are here: the over-the-hill club owner, the streetwise strip club matron, the rock God who’s lost touch with reality, the hypocritical politician’s wife dead-set on protecting children from the evils of rock and roll. It’s no wonder the screening audience ate this up like crack-coated Belgian chocolate, it’s a safe, predictable ride filled with A-list actors and chock full of nostalgic music from the late ’80s / early ’90s.

I think you can see where I’m headed with this. On the one hand, it’s so much fun to hear the music and the mash-ups are particularly well done; the production of the actors all doing their own voice work is top notch. However, it’s nearly impossible to shake the feeling that you’re watching a slightly raunchier version of Glee, complete with the aforementioned Journey anthem closing the show and ensuring that whatever issues anyone may have with the cheesy setups or glacial pacing are erased by the song’s practically irresistible hooks.

At the helm of this far too shiny ship is director Adam Shankman. He did a very smart thing in bringing choreographer Mia Michaels in, the musicality of her work is evident throughout (and the pole dancing expertise of the dancers is truly impressive). But despite such a strong connection with dance and the musical world, Shankman’s efforts have a problem making the transition from stage to screen. It’s clear why audiences love the musical. I’m not even surprised by people who are far less critical just liking the film as it stands, but in being so faithful to the source material it doesn’t allow necessary trimming or reworking in order to make the project make more sense as a movie.

So although I enjoyed listening to all the great music and even found a decent amount of entertainment in most performances, the glossy and middle-of-the-road presentation gave me the inclination to take a shower to wash off how conflicted I felt about the project overall. To be blunt, it feels like all of that rock and roll sold out. The rebellious nature of the music is now just a pretty package to be sold and spoon-fed to the masses.

Rock of Ages does a number of good things. If you can check your cynicism at the door and don’t find the idea of Tom Cruise belting out Def Leppard and Bon Jovi songs abhorrent, then I wish you well. That’s something I just couldn’t do and the static direction, terribly weak transitions, and incessant need to make sure we knew just how recognizable the actors are kept me on the wrong side of the fence once all was said and done. If you think you might feel the same way, just dig through your CD collection and save yourself the ticket price. Any nagging curiosity you might have can definitely wait for the home market.


Rock of Ages hits theaters on June 15, 2012 and is rated PG-13 for sexual content, suggestive dancing, some heavy drinking, and language.