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David Poland

By David Poland

Review: Rock of Ages

Sometimes you eat the movie… sometimes the movie eats you.

Adam Shankman, whose work I quite like, gets eaten alive by Rock of Ages. And not to put too fine a point on it, trying to analyze the film feels a bit like trying to dissect diarrhea. I felt physically abused by the time the movie ended, like I had suffered a bad case of Jukebox Musical’s Revenge. And I am not exaggerating.

The movie stars in the film are generally unscathed. Tom Cruise does fine. So does Russell Brand. The great Alec Baldwin is, sadly, not funny in this film… probably because (read: All Caps) the script sucked. It could not suck any worse if thirteen, not three, people had rewritten it to within an inch of coherence. The three credited screenwriters of this film should seriously consider never trying to write a movie again. One guy wrote the book for the play… so he was probably pushed aside and gets a bit of a pass. Allen Loeb wrote a couple of good scripts, but is now on a long streak of bad. And the next Justin Theroux script that is any good will be his first.

The saddest part of this enterprise is that it is utterly soulless. It has no joy. It has no real passion. It has no theme, aside from “DUDE!”

Adam Shankman, like his movies or not (and I tend to), gets joy. His movies have energy. Not this time.

Not as lucky as their fellow thespians, Catherine Zeta Jones is embarrassed here, Paul Giamatti is a cartoon of a cartoon, Mary J Blige is the token enthnic (the only only person of color is a busboy at the club who is the butt of jokes) and shows up just to sing beautifully when no one else seems to be able to do so, and Bryan Cranston is completely wasted. Malin Akerman is game and seems to give it her best, but in the end, is just another woman who loses her restraint when confronted by the possibility of Stacee Jax’s cock and proceeds to throw herself on him.

The leads, Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough, can sing a little. But while both are conventional beauties, neither can hold the screen for a second. It’s brutal.

Early on, I thought that Glee had killed Rock of Ages, whose mash up and intercut songs are not as good as Glee’s and which Glee has made a cliche.

But it was much, much worse than that. The worst 15 minutes of the worst episode of Glee (Whitney Houston tribute?) was still better than this.

Nothing makes sense. The ladies in the church singing “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” simply made no sense… as THEY were planning to go on the attack.

This is a movie where the lead female’s character name, Shari, is said no less than 50 times… and they never sing a song with her name in it.

This is a movie where they have a monkey dressed in human clothes and the audience does not laugh.

This is a movie where plot lines, like contracts, taxes, mayoral elections in Los Angeles, burgeoning homosexuality, stripping, infidelity, being robbed, etc are all passing plot points that no one seems to care about for much longer than the time to tell another unfunny joke.

It’s not even good camp. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is good camp. As Ted will soon remind, Flash Gordon was great camp. Broadway’s Xanadu was a brilliant camp spin on a movie as bad as this one. But this film doesn’t even take itself seriously enough to be funny the wrong way.

Really, it could not be as bad as it made me feel about it. If it was, I would have bled out on the drive home. And my expectations were so in check going in. It is unfair to compare it to Mamma Mia!, as Mamma Mia! had the courage of its conceit. This film does not. You really have to go back 30 years to find a movie musical this bad. And at least Grease 2 offered a young Michelle Pfeiffer. And Ms Hough, you may have many talents, but you are no young Michelle Pfeiffer.

Shellshockingly bad. Worst wide-release film of the summer so far, going away. Project X was more coherent. Such a total, horrifying waste.

The ONLY redeeming things in the film are, 1) the production design, which does a really interesting job smushing LA landmarks into a small area, and 2) the “We Built This City/We’re Not Going To Take It” face off, which showed, for a minute or so, what this film could have been.

Rock of Ages feels like a film from a another medium where development was so random, just changing any old thing in the script on whims, that you end up with a style exercise with no style the audience can hang onto for the over two hours of boringly recreated rock anthems.

And with that, I will put this film behind me and look forward to better films to come. I am just stunned that so much talent came to so little. Scene after scene, I just couldn’t believe what I was watching.

Tone deaf.

56 Responses to “Review: Rock of Ages”

  1. AdamL says:

    Wow. Kind of wanted to see this. Is it really worse than Mamma Mia!? That is quite an achievement.

  2. aframe says:

    As I told you after the screening, it was heavily changed from the stage, and not for the better, largely removing the self-aware humor and, sadly, sanitizing the whole thing where it feels more pop than down and dirty rock. I read that it was Cruise’s idea to soften and redeem his character from the stage version, which was a huge mistake, as was also sanitizing the Sherrie character. And on stage her name does pay off with a climactic rendition of “Oh Sherrie”–which, of course, is what the original writer named the character for. That Shankman thought that number was one that could be disposed (as well as th big act two angsty love duet/vocal showcase “High Enough”) really just showed he didn’t get it. And turning the Malin Akerman character from what is literally a one-scene throwaway character into a major supporting player makes one wonder if he was just changing shit because he could.

  3. Don R. Lewis says:

    Ouch. At least Night Ranger is playing here at the fair next week.

  4. LexG says:

    As a child of the ’80s who saw everyone from Tesla to Firehouse to Slaughter to Skid Row to Aerosmith to Def Lep to all points in between live, had ALL that shit on cassette– I can’t even imagine how a campy musical about a SMALL TOWN GIRL coming out here because of the “light metal” scene in ANY way corresponds to the Sunset/Gardner 1987 scene as it actually was.

    I’ll find out on Friday, I guess, but even if you find/found the Poison, Warrant, Winger scene totally cheesy, it wasn’t THIS kind of cheese, and other than Vixxxen and Lita Ford, were there really many aspiring WIDE-EYED females flouncing down Sunset acting like Sandy from GREASE?

    Glad all these old dudes are surely making millions of selling their songs, but when I think of the era I think of like “Slash shooting heroin into his cock” (TM Dennis Miller) and Vince Neil crashing Ferraris and Nikki Sixx and Ozzy and Tommy snorting ants, with the women strictly there are groupies, not as equal-opportunity BELTERS on stage.

    And is Cruise playing Axl, or Bon Jovi, or Brett Michaels, or Sebastian Bach? None of whom would be part of some gaudy musical revue backdrop in the heyday.

  5. aframe says:

    The thing is, in the original show, Sherrie may be some small town girl, but her inner slutty groupie comes out with Stacee Jaxx. Of course, for the film, that part is gone, in the interest of making her “likable” and “a good role model” for teen girls and “acceptable” for their parents. Bleh.

  6. Ivan Raiz says:

    I strongly disagree with you as I saw the movie yesterday.

    “read that it was Cruise’s idea to soften and redeem his character from the stage version, which was a huge mistake, as was also sanitizing the Sherrie character.”

    As you may have also read that the response to Sherri and Stacee’s Rock You Like a Hurricane was overwhelmingly negative because of the circumstances. This movie is a crowd please of course but I do believe Adam S. would have made a great mistake if he shared your mindset.

  7. Ivan Raiz says:

    LexG, Cruise is a lot like Axl but you will see many elements to his character. This is an Oscar worthy performance and I felt that it was alone worth the ticket price.

  8. LexG says:

    Well, I DO love Cruise so I should withhold judgment, he’s my favorite actor and HUMAN BEING.

  9. sanj says:

    i asked 2 weeks before this film opened if any of the big cast would end up getting a dp/30 – and i guess nobody will
    cause DP hates the movie … and that would be uncomfortable to sit through but everybody deserves a fair shot.

    video clips from the musical / play is all up on youtube .. a dozen songs x 2 minutes each ..some longer
    thats 24 minutes of music + add the story using wikipedia = no need to see the movie .

    all the songs seem to be from the 1980’s – the good thing is back then they made music videos for most of these songs – Twisted Sister – We’re Not Gonna Take It is one
    of my favorite videos .

    then there are songs from the Rock of Ages that weren’t well known but now got famous …

    why hasn’t anybody made Rock of Ages 2 with 90’s music ?

    this could be more fun than the movie…

    Har Mar Superstar, Alia Shawkat and Ellen Page

    – Don’t Stop Believin’

  10. movieman says:

    Despite my loathing of most ’80s music, I surprised myself but not hating “ROA.”
    Best perfs are by Giamatti and CZJ; the best singing is courtesy of (no surprise) Mary J. Blige.
    Cruise has a much bigger role than I thought going in. He really is in pretty much the entire movie.
    Not sure whether he’s had any “work” done, but his face (as “MI: GP” attested) is looking mighty peculiar these days.
    Since he’s lost his boyish good looks and is no longer capable of playing leading men (or heroic action figures for that matter), he should really just concentrate on juicy character roles like this–and the ones he played in “Tropic Thunder” and “Magnolia.” He’s still a pretty good actor and, if hearing is believing (and I’m not quite sure that it is), not a terrible singer.
    The nadir of the film? Alec Baldwin, or maybe just Alec Baldwin’s wig. Not good.
    It was a nice surprise seeing Bryan Cranston as CZJ’s mayor hubby. I had no idea he was even in this.
    Bryan must not have had a single day off during his “Breaking Bad” hiatus.
    He seems to be popping up in every third film these days–sort of like the middle-aged male equivalent to Jessica Chastain (one of his “Madagascar 3″ costars).
    P.S.= Is it just me, or does Julianne Hough look 10 years younger than she did in last fall’s “Footloose” remake?

  11. movieman says:

    …BY not hating.

  12. Paul D/Stella says:

    I had passes to a screening last week. Gave them to my wife and mom. They both absolutely loved it. Doesn’t appeal to me at all and seems like most reviews will be negative, but won’t the Mamma Mia audience turn out in droves?

  13. bulldog68 says:

    “Since he’s lost his boyish good looks and is no longer capable of playing leading men (or heroic action figures for that matter).”

    Aw cmon, I know the guy lost some of his luster, but the guy who gave good to great performances in Rainman, A Few Good Men, Born on the 4th of July, Jerry Maguire and Minority Report is still an engaging actor to watch, and can still have a great leading man performance with the right script and director.

    I still think he has an Oscar in his future.

  14. movieman says:

    Bulldog- Have you studied Cruise’s face lately?
    I know every producer in town has been clamoring to sign him for projects after “Ghost Protocol” surprised the industry last Xmas by overperforming, but he’s no longer very pretty to look at.
    While I’m not sure whether he’s had plastic surgery or not, he definitely looks it.
    Character roles are definitely the way to go from now on.
    And I’m speaking as someone who’s been a fan since “Taps.” And who liked him in “ROA.”

  15. bulldog68 says:

    So exactly who is your idea of leading men in lalaland these days Movieman? Give me three names.

  16. Don R. Lewis says:

    I can see this movie doing really well based on America’s stupid affection for cover bands. The cover bands here in the San Francisco Bay Area EASILY pull in a million bucks a year due to expensive tickets for morons who want to hear music they already know.

  17. Krillian says:

    Rock of Ages 2 with 90’s rock – that’s hilarious.

  18. anghus says:

    It looks terrible and probably is. Mama Mia looked terrible and was terrible. And yet it made a ridicukous amount of money.

    I suppose the equalizer would be how audiences feel about hair metal v. Abba

  19. movieman says:

    Damon (still and forever), Renner (imminent), Tatum (breaking now, esp after “MM” hits).

    That’s just off the top of my head.

  20. David Poland says:

    The thing about Mamma Mia! was that the music was more suited to a musical and Meryl was so game, as were the 3 guys, all of whom can’t sing at all. This film acts as though everyone can sing… and only Mary J Blige really can. The kids in it are okay singers, but not charismatic… like the kids from Last American Virgin got singing lessons.

    I am a sucker for a movie like this… even if, like Mamma Mia!, I recognize the cheese (which, btw, the director says was intended). In this film, I was just desprately waiting for a single spark.

    I didn’t like the movie of Rent, but I got those sparks all over the place. Actors were too old. Context was a mess. But some really great songs and character beats.

    Not here.

  21. Keil Shults says:

    Wake me when The Book of Mormon hits movie theaters.

  22. SamLowry says:

    LAV was one of those films you never want to watch again. I caught it on cable in the ’80s and found it icky, depressing, and more than willing to confirm everything I thought was wrong with relations between the sexes.

    That was the one where the three guys stood in the public pool for hours, hoping the water would drown their crabs, right?

  23. aframe says:


    “As you may have also read that the response to Sherri and Stacee’s Rock You Like a Hurricane was overwhelmingly negative because of the circumstances.”

    Yes, and I agree with removing that scene from the film because if it stayed, it would’ve existed in a complete vacuum since the film version removes the entire Stacee/Sheree relationship that exists in the stage version (substituting Akerman’s character for her in the “I Want to Know What Love Is” number). Actually surprised that Shankman kept and shot it since it makes no sense without that bit of history… but then it’s not like anything else here made much sense, on film or on the stage (though at least in the latter they had fun acknowledging that).

  24. JS Partisan says:

    Movieman, sorry, but Cruise still looks better than all of those guys. I am a fan of all three of those men but Renner is the closest to be breaking out of that pack, but he looks a lot like Cruise, but with different coloring. The fact that you put Tatum on that list, with his weird hairline issues, is sort of hilarious. The weird hair line, okay, but Tom Cruise’s face is disturbing? Huh?

  25. cadavra says:

    Like DARK SHADOWS and Adam Sandler, this too seems to be a generational thing. I had less than zero interest in shelling out $140 to hear bad cover versions of music I thought was shite in the first place, and now even less than less than zero in seeing a film version that apparently doesn’t even live up to the feeble standards of the stage show. Feh. I’d rather see a movie of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET, but that’ll never happen, because “nobody” knows who them old dudes are.

  26. Krillian says:

    Let’s put it this way. If it was Matt Dillon playing Stacee Jaxx instead of Tom Cruise, I’d say this looks like one of the worst movies of the year. But despite reading all this, it’s still Tom Cruise as Jaxx and therefore I still want to see it, just with really low expectations.

  27. berg says:

    Burlesque was better, which I know doesn’t say much …. Actually I’ve always thought that Kubrick should’ve used Baldwin/Bassinger as the couple in Eyes Wide Shut rather than Cruise/Kidman

  28. christian says:

    “the “We Built This City/We’re Not Going To Take It” face off”

    If I needed one reason to avoid this…I’ll take the “Dancin'” mash-up from XANADU anyday…

  29. Breedlove says:

    Cruise’s face doesn’t look any different. Looks like the same guy to me and to 99.99% of moviegoers I’d bet.

  30. anghus says:

    Thanks for the warning. I respect those who try to warn people about potential spoilers.

    With that said, can you really spoil Rock of Ages?

  31. Hendhogan says:

    How can you do a movie about the ’80s rock scene and have it be PG-13?

    That is the only thing I thought of when they showed the trailer. The answer, unsurprisingly, is you can’t.

  32. Christian says:

    What’s r-rated about Starship?

  33. hcat says:

    This has sounded terrible from the get-go, you tell me that someone is putting together a Queen musical, or the most obvious jukebox movie musical-the Monkees, I might give it a chance. But a movie about heavy metal bands featuring yuppie rockers Starship, Foreigner and Night Ranger? Other than the graduating classes of 81-86 is there an audience for this? Say what you will about ABBA but they have found new generations of listeners since their heyday, sure some may claim to only like it ironically, but everyone with three beers in them can sing along to dancing queen.

  34. LYT says:

    Cadavra – $140? LA ticket prices really have gotten out of hand. The very first version that played at King King on Hollywood Blvd surely didn’t cost that much.

    As for Million Dollar Quartet, though, there was that movie about one of those guys that got several Oscar nominations not long ago. Provided you get the word out to every tattoo convention, a new movie would go over huge and rake in some “Cash.”

  35. Yancy Skancy says:

    Yeah, Cash and Presley would draw, I think. And even people who don’t know much about Lewis and Perkins would probably be familiar with some of their songs. So I say they should do it!

  36. Joe Leydon says:

    Has anyone ever heard what Jerry Lee Lewis thinks of Million Dollar Quartet? He’s the only one of the four still alive, so…

  37. Joe Leydon says:

    LYT: Remember what John Cusack’s character said was his favorite book in High Fidelity?

  38. samguy says:

    I was actually looking forward to this – I enjoyed “Hairspray” and it’s allegedly my generation’s music, though for me the 80’s and rock meant “The River,” “Joshua Tree” – get the idea? BUT…

    I saw the revival of “Follies” (!!!!) at the Ahmanson and after that, I’m kind of spoiled by a solid mature show. So to see this which, granted is meant to be pure fun, I’m not just in the mood.

    Growing old’s a bitch.

  39. Oddvark says:

    My first concert ever was Starship — the “Mick & Slick” tour, which featured “We Built this City”, at the Holiday Star Theatre in Merrilville, Indiana. We had 4th row seats and could feel the somewhat-aging-but-still-awesome Grace Slick stare deep into our eyes as she sang “Somebody to Love”. My friend jumped up on stage and kissed her on the cheek in the middle of the show. And I remember the loudest and longest bass guitar solo I have ever heard. Good times.

    And I have no desire to see Rock of Ages.

  40. Hallick says:

    It’s Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Malin Akerman and Catherine Zeta Jones in “K-TEL: THE MOTION PICTURE”.

    “Kidz Bop in Imax 3D” coming soon to a theater near you…

  41. movieman says:

    If any of you actually took the time to LOOK at Cruise’s face–in “GP” or “ROA”–you’ll see there’s something seriously amiss.
    Nobody can tell me he hasn’t been worked on.
    (And the long greasy hair he wore in both of those films certainly didn’t “accentuate the positive” if ya know what I mean.)

  42. Yancy Skancy says:

    Joe: Elvis is still alive, too.

  43. Not David Bordwell says:

    Hey, Joe—

    The Killer gave his blessing to the guy playing him on Broadway, Levi Kreis, a couple of years ago:

  44. mysteryperfecta says:


    I just looked at some pics taken of Tom Cruise within the last week. What he looks is “older”. He’s almost 50. He looks very good for his age, but I saw no evidence of those places on a person’s face that should have wrinkles but didn’t on his.

    Maybe it IS the hair. He’s sporting a shorter hairstyle now. Check out Yahoo’s latest images. :)

  45. LexG says:

    Loved it.

    Cried like a total douche from beginning to end… Even if it’s sort of homogenizing the music I grew up with and turning the LA sleaze-metal scene into “So You Think You Can Glee,” it is earnest and aw-shucks and nostalgic and CRUISE RULES, and Giamatti’s performance here is as entertaining as anything we’ll see all year.


  46. cadavra says:

    Luke: $140 is the cost of most orchestra tickets for RoA on Broadway. Top ticket price is actually $165.

  47. LexG says:

    I honestly CANNOT BELIEVE that CAPTAIN MUSICAL Poland didn’t love this… The audience applauded three separate times at the end. Everyone was on board with CRUISE throughout… even the Hough stuff everyone thinks is the weak link is cute and sentimental and REMINDS YOU OF 1987 OR 1989 WHEN YOU HAD ALL THESE SONGS ON CASSETTE and dreamed of THE RAINBOW ROOM and the highest pop culture moment of your life was Slash playing his solo floating on the water with dolphins in the ESTRANGED vid, and a year or two later you MOVED OUT HERE with STARS IN YOUR EYES and WENT UP MULHOLLAND TO LOOK AT THE CITY and then hit Sunset and Gardner only to find the scene was mostly over except for the handful of whammy bar dudes still keeping it alive.

    But then again, Poland and Cadavra, neither one probably has a “rock” bone in their body, and like my Sandler rant last month, either this era hits your nostalgic sweet spot or it doesn’t… I guess if you were 27 when Guns and Crue and Poison were big, it wasn’t much of a big deal to you unless you were in it; It’d be like them making a movie about KILLERS and FALLOUT BOY in 25 years and me being expected to get misty-eyed for some shit I was 30 when it came out and barely paid attention to.

  48. Krillian says:

    Just got back from it.

    Tom Cruise is amazing. Best Supporting Actor nomination should come his way.

    But most of the rest of it, Dave is right about. Diego Boneta was awful, just a black hole of charisma. I was stunned there in the first act that it really was as bad as Dave said. Diego & Julianne were every comparison you want to make to High School Musical, Kidz Pop, Glee, Jonas Brothers…

    But then Tom Cruise shows up, and his Axl Rose tortured soul was so… COOL… he showed what the rest of the movie should have been. His “Wanted Dead or Alive” had more defiant soul than Bon Jovi ever thought of putting into it.

  49. cadavra says:

    Lex–I have plenty of rock bones in my body: Stones, Who, Creedence, Hendrix, Cream, Byrds, Joplin, Airplane, Buffalo Springfield, The Band, U2, Pretenders, Springsteen, even relatively obscure bands like Spirit and The Serfs. Not to mention the pioneers of the 50s: Berry, Diddley, Lewis, etc. You slap WOODSTOCK on a projector and I’m so totally there. But most music of the 80s is, IMHO, garbage, and RoA celebrates the worst of it. Generational? Yeah, probably. But as John Simon once said, “Slop is slop, even when served on a silver platter.”

  50. David Poland says:

    Lex…I lived just off the strip when those guys were playing the rooms on Sunset. I ate at Dukes with most of them.

    But you are right, backwards, that the sweet spot matters. If you are right in it, you are a relative pushover. And I have no problem with that. But that doesn’t make me unable to enjoy the film. The film did that for me.

    I liked Cruise. He is an underrated actor. But I also saw Magnolia. And this script is not good enough to make it great for me. And god knows, I love staring at the pores in Malin Akerman’s face and the moisture in her mouth… but oy…

  51. Joe Leydon says:

    Cadavra: Ah yes, Spirit. There was an odd stretch a couple years back where it seemed like I saw three different movies within about 2 weeks that used “I Got a Line on You” in the soundtrack. Thought it was going to become the next “Spirit in the Sky” in terms of all-purpose golden oldie.

  52. P. Hobby says:

    Pure schlock.

  53. S Stasey says:

    Easily the worst movie that my husband and I have ever seen – mainly due to the “CHEESY” storyline! Can’t believe we didn’t just get up and walk out – wasted time on a beautiful weekend!

  54. LexG says:

    IT IS A MASTERPIECE and anyone who didn’t CRY FOR ALL 127 MINUTES out of nostalgia, I don’t trust.

    Other than FAME, it’s the best musical EVER MADE. IT IS SO GOOD.



  55. cadavra says:

    Okay, I’ve looked at her. And…?

  56. Steve Lamacq says:

    I’m struggling with all the negativity here. This is seriously great fun. Badly directed, scripted, plotted but just BIG fun from beginning to end!

    It is miles ahead of Mamma Mia simply because the subject matter, location and characters are so rich for send up that you go with it. The nostalgia helps too and adds to the fun.

    All the stars do great, the leads not so much but then again that’s how the show was! The leads are bland so the other characters can go off the map.

    It’s surreal, bonkers and utterly enjoyable.

    Nobodies mentioned the Brand/Baldwin duet – come on! The audience were howling!

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