‘Rock Of Ages’: The Reviews Are In!

Tom Cruise rescues rock and roll musical that 'wins no prizes for originality,' critics say.

It’s relatively safe to say “Rock of Ages” has built-in appeal: It’s based on a hit Broadway musical of the same name and features a slew of A-list actors singing and dancing along to some of the biggest hits of the 1980s.

Despite all those charms, including the top billing of action star turned rock star Tom Cruise, the whimsical musical is not quite a surefire hit among critics and sits at a less-than-fresh rating over at Rotten Tomatoes. Sing along as we take a walk through the “Rock of Ages” reviews.

The Story
” ‘Rock of Ages,’ a rags-to-riches rock ‘n’ roll musical set mostly in a music club on Sunset Strip, wins no prizes for originality. A lot of it is zesty entertainment, with some energetic musical numbers; several big names (Tom Cruise, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin) prove they can sing well enough to play the Strip if they lose the day job. The two leads are Diego Boneta, as a bartender in the Strip’s hottest club, and Julianne Hough, as a naive kid just off the bus from the Midwest. They’re both gifted singers and join the others in doing covers of 1980s rock classics. Of course they also fall in love. Of course they have heartfelt conversations while standing behind the ‘Hollywood’ sign. Of course they break up because of a tragic misunderstanding. Of course their mistake is repaired and (spoiler!) they’re back together at the end. Has ever a romance in a musical been otherwise?” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

The Music and Singing
“It looks like Disneyland and sounds, well, like a bad Broadway musical, with all the power belting and jazz-hand choreography that implies. To put it another way, there’s way too much Journey on the soundtrack, and Foreigner. There’s also an REO Speedwagon ditty, a few from Twisted Sister, Def Leppard and Poison, and at least two hits that were released after 1987 (‘More Than Words’ and ‘I Remember You’). All the songs are sung, mostly without shame or distinction, by the actors themselves, who slide into the warbling as if into a conversation. A grizzled, bewigged Mr. Baldwin enunciates through his songs, in the Rex Harrison mold, to play a rock survivor, Dennis Dupree, who runs the Bourbon with his sidekick, Lonny (Mr. Brand). They make their stale buddy routine and romance amusing and, as with the rest of the adults, make the movie bearable. A whispering and writhing Mr. Cruise makes it watchable.” — Manohla Dargis, New York Times

The Cruise Factor
“The real reason to see ‘Rock of Ages,’ though, is Tom Cruise. He doesn’t sing much, and the one big onstage number he’s given — shredding Def Leppard’s ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ under a rain of shaken-up beer from the audience — relies heavily on postproduction and backup singing, probably to mask his vocal shortcomings. But especially in his scenes with [Paul] Giamatti and Malin Akerman (as a Rolling Stone critic who’s the only one with the guts to call Stacee on his ersatz-Marlon Brando B.S.), Cruise goes to a deep, dark, almost deliberately repellent place I’m not sure he’s ever been before (in ‘Magnolia,’ maybe, and in a comic mode as the profane studio head Les Grossman in ‘Tropic Thunder’). The isolation and paranoia brought on by extreme fame is something Tom Cruise clearly understands from the inside out — and what we know, or think we know, about the actor’s personal eccentricities can’t help but color our understanding of Stacee as well. When Cruise and Akerman have lurid (but still PG-13) sex atop an air-hockey table while singing Foreigner’s ‘I Want to Know What Love Is,’ Cruise’s expressions of erotic anguish are like something out of Steve McQueen’s sex-addiction drama ‘Shame,’ with a hint of tragic drag queen thrown in. Cruise’s portrait of the rock star as empty-eyed nihilist doesn’t really belong in this gaudy pop trinket of a movie — it’s both too outsized and too inward — but that’s precisely what makes for its fascination. ‘Rock of Ages’ is only recommended for audiences with a taste for highly processed cheese, but it did leave me hopeful that the next decade may see the rise of Weird Tom Cruise.” — Dana Stevens, Slate

The Final Word
” ‘Rock of Ages’ is an effulgent celebration of fakeness. It isn’t trying to be real; it’s trying to be faker than any fake thing has ever been before. Compared to this fake musical set in a fake version of the past that spins a ridiculously fake narrative of pop-culture history, ‘Mamma Mia’ (the last jukebox musical to be vilified by critics and embraced by the public) is pretty much a mumblecore movie. ‘Rock of Ages’ is so remarkably fake it’s almost ur-fake or meta-fake; you can watch the globs of trans fats congealing on its preternaturally bright surfaces as it cools. This movie could hardly seem more weirdly artificial if it had been jointly hatched by David Lynch and John Waters, and raised in a lab on a steady diet of Foreigner hits and original Broadway-cast recordings. I’m not claiming this movie is good for you, Lord knows. It’s a little bit like eating a Happy Meal at 4:30 in the morning after a long night of Jagermeister and nitrous oxide. But not to put too fine a point on it, if you ain’t lookin’ for nothin’ but a good time, why should you resist? Some people who claim to understand the public appetite smell an expensive flop here, and that well may be. But I’m here to tell you that this movie is almost too weird to be believed, and that if you share even a fraction of my taste for perversity you should check it out.” — Andrew O’Hehir, Salon

Check out everything we’ve got on “Rock of Ages.”

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