Rock of Ages Review: Tom Cruise's Rousing, Anthemic Coming Out Party

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Rock of Ages Review: Tom Cruise's Rousing, Anthemic Coming Out Party

By Dustin Rowles | Film Reviews | June 15, 2012 | Comments ()


I don't care who Tom Cruise sleeps with; man, woman, or beast, it's his business. I don't care what religion he worships or what beard he has contracted. Onscreen, he is gay, and I don't mean that in the homosexual sense. I mean it in the sense that straight people do not have nearly as much fun as Tom Cruise. Seven years ago, Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger took major career risks to depict a real, loving, emotionally devastating gay relationship in Brokeback Mountain. But I would argue that Cruise, here, takes an even bolder risk: He's a 50-year-old man coming off the biggest movie of his career, an Oscar winner, one of the most recognizable actors in the world, the star of Rain Man, Born on the Fourth of July and Magnolia, and he's singing showtune versions of terrible 80's rock anthems, and he's doing it fearlessly. This is Crazy-Cakes Cruise, the Tom Cruise that jumped on Oprah's coach with the enthusiasm of a schoolgirl who had just been given a pony for her birthday. I fucking love Tom Cruise for that, for throwing himself off the tallest building in the world in Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol, for rapping his white ass off in Tropic Thunder, and for the over-amped, over-choreographed rendition of Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive" in Rock of Ages. Say what you want about his acting skills, say what you want about him as a person, but Tom Cruise tries harder than any guy on the planet to please an audience, and it's that effort, that zeal, and that determination that seeps into Rock of Ages, turning what is essentially High School Musical 4: The Glam Rock Years into one of the most uncool crowd-pleasing movies of the year.

Is it bad? Oh, God yes. It's terrible. But so is Journey. Yet, that doesn't stop you from belting out "Don't Stop Believin'" when you're by yourself driving down the freeway at three in the morning. That's essentially what Rock of Ages is: It's Tom Cruise's Risky Business home-alone dance party writ large and scored by fucking Def Leppard. There's not a less cool movie on the planet. Appreciating it ironically would be like a hipster trying to burn out the sun with a glass of water. It's pointless. You either hate this movie with every fiber of your overly critical soul, or you check that cynicism at the door and embrace it, fill in the last pocket of your secret shame chamber, and pump your goddamn fist like you don't give a shit. If you show weakness, if you hide behind your cynicism for even a second, Rock of Ages will eat you up and crush you.

Adam Shankman's Rock of Ages is centered on a rock club, The Bourbon Room, in 1987. Stacee Jaxx is the burned out, blitzkrieged lead singer of the biggest rock band on the planet, Arsenal, and he's about to take the stage for his last time before going solo at the club where he started it all: The Bourbon Room. That's the backdrop for everything that happens in the movie. Julianne Hough is Sherrie, the Oklahoma girl who gets off the bus in L.A. and immediately lands a job at the Bourbon Room when Drew (Diego Boneta) -- a barkeep and aspiring rock star -- pulls her off the street after a mugging. They provide the small-town girl, big-city boy love story at the center of Rock of Ages. Meanwhile, Alec Baldwin's Dennis Dupree and his right-hand man, Lonny (Russell Brand) try to keep the Bourbon Room afloat in the face of religious protests from the mayor's (Bryan Cranston) wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who has a grudge against Stacee Jaxx. Cranston's mayor is into rough sex-play, his wife is into Twisted Sister, and Dennis and Lonny are into each other (and if their REO Speedwagon duet doesn't win you over, you have no soul, my friend).

The plot, however, is irrelevant. It's about the songs, about moving the story along through cheesiest lyrics in the history of music. It's the one genius of '80s rock anthems; great musicians bury their emotions in themes, symbols, and lyrics meant to provoke certain feelings. Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Journey, Poison, Twisted Sister and the rest of the blue-collar '80s musicians didn't have that kind of lyrical talent: They spoke transparently, exposing all their vulnerabilities through lyrics that read like the scribbles on a teenager's notebook. But there's something noble and fearless to be said for that level of cheesy courageousness, and it translates in Rock of Ages into a soaring power ballad of a movie.

Furthermore, Shanmkan -- working from a Broadway play -- manages the impossible: He Disneyfies what is already toothless bubble gum glam and strips it of what few hard edges existed, turning it into one gloriously huge gay rock musical. But that's what I adored about Rock of Ages; it's a haters-gonnna-hate kind of movie. There's no pretense. It's raw, corporate earnestness. It embraces the excess, multiplies it, and if you're willing to go along, it is a shameful, exhilarating experience that you'll probably never admit to loving, even though you will. But if you try to act too cool for it, Rock of Ages will murder you in your sleep. It's a fun movie, and having fun is almost never cool.

Happy Friday, Everyone. I'll Be In My Bunk. | 5 Shows After Dark 6/17/12

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Beau Hajavitch

    In the poster for this film, why is Alec Baldwin wearing a 1996 Kiss t-shirt when Rock Of Ages is set in 1987? And that shirt would be purported to be a '70s one, too, or it better, 'cause in 1987 the last time Kiss wore makeup and had both Ace and Peter in the band was in very early 1980. In the Tower Records store, there was a Kiss Crazy Nights poster, and that album came out in September 1987, so the movie is obviously set in the fall. But why is "More Than Words" by Extreme here, when that song came out in 1990? And funny how that's the only song that doesn't fit timewise. Is someone an Extreme fan? The first time Stacee Jaxx is presented to us is a mixture of Paul's entrance and Gene's entrance in the home video Kiss Exposed, and Stacee's monkey is also stolen from Kiss Exposed. Ironically, Kiss Exposed came out in 1987. Maybe the picture is trying to be painted that monkeys were hip then. Oh, and Steven Tyler's monkey in that skit in the American Idol finale was stolen from Kiss Exposed, too. He should get that monkey to help him at Burger King. Besides all that, I loved this movie - BEST FILM EVER!!!!! Teaching today's generation about records and used record store culture. Try the plotline about Sherrie's stolen records with a fucking Ipod.

  • professor_love

    Saw this over the weekend. Agree totally. I expressed it best to my wife after the film: They took 80's hair band rock and turned it into the Lawrence Welk Show.

  • Ocelotty1

    I always thought that Tom Cruise phoned it in as an actor. He was the quintessential rent a white man - No matter what film he starred in he was always Tom Cruise, never the character he portrayed. That was until The Last Samurai when, wow was he great & let's not forget his fantastic portrayal of Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder. It may not seem it on the surface but the man has talent.

  • Slap

    Cruise is trying way too hard, as is this reviewer.

  • mslewis

    I don't understand anything you said in that "review"!!! A waste of my Sunday morning. And, anyway, nobody is bothering to see this piece of crap so, there's that reality.

  • Michelle

    Saw this yesterday. It's awesomely awful! I enjoyed the hell out of it, even though it's a terrible movie. But I'm pretty sure I'm the target demographic for this, as I love musicals, knew all the songs, and will see any Tom Cruise movie.

  • Barry

    Thankfully this ridiculous POS is bombing hard, and we can only hope that Tom's time is coming to a long overdue close. Good riddance, you closeted lunatic cultist dwarf.

  • Oh one more thing. Only Bon Jovi should sing Bon Jovi!

  • Cruise is over, this role is lame and the film is stupid.
    How dare you even think of comparing a role that changed the way people think with T.C last ditch attempt to recover a tiny strand of career that is not connected to Mission Impossible!
    I am so disgusted.
    T C can take however many digitally photoshopped, man-linered up roles he can get his gross little hands on but it will not help him because TC as a human being is a un-educated over opinionated finger pointing idiot who spends way too much time looking in the mirror.
    The public has not forgotten his giant rant where he basically put himself above everyone else and insulted half the population.
    Heath Ledger did NOT take a risk! Why don't you people understand that YET?!!!
    He saw no risk in his role in Brokeback, he never thought that when he took the role.Heath saw a beautiful love story that needed to be told. Those are his own words.It was a small budget film and Heath had no hang-ups about being gay, he loved everyone the same, unlike the judgmental TC.
    I do know that there is no god because if there was TC and Heath Ledger would switch places right now.
    RIP Heath, my friend.

  • Aaron Schulz

    I love cruise, i dont care that he loves alien jesus or whatever, the man is so damned likable, and damnit if the beckhams like him who am i to say otherwise?

  • Tom Cruise is an Oscar winner? For which film?

  • duckandcover

    Yet, that doesn’t stop you from belting out “Don’t Stop Believin’” when you’re by yourself driving down the freeway at three in the morning.

    That's me going to work normally, so.

  • Sara S.

    This looks like it could be interesting.

  • kirbyjay

    TOMCRUISE is 5'6", which he constantly lies about and wears lifts for. He's never won an Oscar. He's in a money sucking cult that practices modern day slavery and frowns on homosexuality unless it's one of their biggest stars ( Travolta, possibly Cruise). He is all about IMAGE. He's turned a seemingly normal woman into a zombie. But damned if I don't agree that he is friggin watchable and looks to be the only good thing about Rock of Ages.
    P.S. Does anyone here seriously believe that he jumped off the Burj Khalifa?
    It's called special effects, and I doubt any film insurance company is going to let anyone, never mind Tom Cruise, jump off the tallest building in the world.

  • fpkillkill

    I...can't. I just can't do it. I love cheesy Broadway more than I can tell you, unabashedly love it but I despise Tom Cruise more. I had an epic rant about him here a couple of years ago and it still stands. The only things I ever liked him in were Risky Business because he was still actually trying to act and not just be some personality (Tom Cruise as opposed to TOM! CRUISE!) and Taps because he fucking dies in it. Whee!!!

    But, Dustin, your review almost pushed me into it. I may on one drunken night months from now catch this on cable. And hate myself the next morning along with the wicked hangover.

  • Michelle

    I love this review because I agree with the sentiments about Tom Cruise. He's not a particularly good actor but he tries so damn hard and I admire that. I also love the shit out of 80s hair bands, because I grew up with all of that, and I will totally see this movie. I haven't turned down an opportunity to un-ironically sing Journey, Def Leppard, or any other awesome band in years, and adding Tom Cruise into the mix is just icing on the cake. (I'm still not sold on that Julianna Hough though.)

  • Katylalala

    I'm still not entirely convinced that 'Julianna Hough' is an actual person.

  • Bodhi

    I'm sure I'll see this at some point, but I'd MUCH rather see Chris Hardwick as Stacee Jaxx on stage!

  • Case Crum

    It does look like a gloriously fun movie,but I can't support Tom Cruise.
    Those Scientologists aren't crazy or wacky. They're frickin' evil,with the prison camps to prove it.

  • John G.

    How does Tom Cruise do it? Five years ago, I would have said he was finally done, but now people are back to liking him again. He went to the bottom of the pit and made his way back out again. Despite having a child prisoner bride and an alien baby, despite being a prominent member of a money-scam cult, and despite being an actor with very limited range, he wins people back. He's got something.

  • JJ

    If staring in a musical doesn't prove Tom Cruise is gay I don't know what will! Maybe we should ask his friend John T you know the one that starred in Grease! Lol

  • Green Lantern

    Also upvoted. My gawd, I'm gonna start watching all of the "Mission: Impossible" movies based mostly on a friend's amazing opinion of "Ghost Protocol"...movies I've mostly avoided BECAUSE Cruse starred in them.

    Well I gotta admit, I watched and mostly enjoyed the first one.

    Perhaps it's time to start reevaluating my opinion of Tom Cruse - The Actor (which does not have to do anything with Tom Cruse - The Person, of course).

  • Upvoted hard.

  • Spanglish In Lesbilandia

    Inspiring review truly is. But no. Still not gonna see it.

  • Serpentlord

    Tom Cruise is an unbelievably shitty person, he's a fundamentalist for the most obvious cult in human history, and he's so insecure about his fertility that he hasn't let his wife do anything but an Adam Sandler comedy since their marriage.

    But every now and then, he does things I find amazing. Like jump off the tallest building in the world without a stunt double, or not bring a lawsuit to the Buffalo Beast once he realized he'd only give that fuckwit Ian Murphy more publicity, even after the Beast practically begged Cruise to sue them.

    I'm glad he does this, it keeps him from being my least favorite person in Hollywood.

  • Katieeferg

    Tom Cruise hasn't won an Oscar. He's been nominated twice I think but is yet to win.
    I though this film was fun enjoyable nonsense (not as good as Hairspray but probably on a par with Mamma Mia). Russell Brand's brummie accent took some getting used to though.

  • caro

    i wanted to see the movie for Tom Cruise as rock-star:i knew it will be a guilty pleasure.And every review i read says the same stuff:you wiil go to see this awful movie for Tom Cruise as rock star

  • KV

    What would be an appropriate name for its porn version, which, incidentally, I am waiting for?

  • luthien26

    Cock of Ages, of course.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Rock all Ages, maybe?

  • Mr_Grumpypants

    Someone please tell me if Bryan Cranston sings in this. That is really all I care about.

  • Martin

    This review is goddamned inspired.

  • Slash

    I have no intention of ever seeing this movie, it looks terrible, but I gotta agree with the Cruise thing. I think the Scientologists are fucking crazy, but Cruise is good at his job. He commits. He's pretty much impossible not to watch in a movie, and that's kind of the definition of a movie star. And you can't say he's afraid to try different things. He's been in some crap movies, but at least he risks failing. And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but he still goes for it. That's admirable.

  • Clancys_Daddy

    "terrible 80’s rock anthems" Bite my wrinkled old ass.

  • Psychicdog

    2 reasons there are those of us who don't sing "Don't Stop Believin'" while driving home at three in the morning: first, the song has been beaten to death by getting overplayed (mostly by people such as yourself who know it's tripe but insist on having an appreciation for it); and second, some of us have TASTE.
    Now if you'll excuse me, I need to pull out Quadrophenia and forget that you dared me to like the Four Horsemen of the Music Apocalypse.

  • Jen

    Thank you , thank you , thank you. I think I just fell in love with you.

  • Archie Leach

    You can dress a pig up but it's still a pig.

  • greer

    I will probably never see this movie. Tom Cruise gives me the creeping majibbers. And I have yet to find a reason for Russell Brand's existence.

    But I love you for this review.

    Never change, Dustin.

  • Uncle Mikey

    I've always respected the guy, but decided to like him after I saw him on Top Gear. He did the racing lap of the local racetrack pretty well until he came in too hot on a corner, ran off into the grass, and went up on two wheels. And save it. And set the fastest lap for a celebrity.

    Also, Journey is awesome. How dare you.

  • In case anyone's looking for a little more fun with this movie: I was an extra in this, and one of the other extras was a fan of Anne Rice and told me that they were choosing to watch this film get made as though Tom Cruise were still playing Lestat in his "biggest rock star in the world" persona.

    The tone isn't right, but still an interesting concept.

  • OOOOH. I like.

  • Az

    And now I love this movie even more!

  • JenVegas

    So, like, this whole movie is the opening of Queen of the Damned? That's actually scary brilliant. I maybe have to go back and watch all of his movies and pretend he is Lestat in them. Rainman. Rainman would be funny with a vampire.



  • L.O.V.E.

    Ah, ERM explained to me what this means.

    Jorge, No one cares about your life as an elementary school student.

  • hapl0

    *slow clap*

  • Jezzer

    Yeah, five whole paragraphs. I'm EXHAUSTED now.

  • L.O.V.E.

    Someone help me. I have gray (not "grey" - my balls are 100% 'Merican, yee hah!) balls now, and dont know about these emoticon thingys and all the abbreviations. Is someone a "tall doctor"? and why is that a bad thing?

  • ERM

    It stands for "too long; didn't read." For some reason, people love to let people on blogs know that they did not read a post because there were too many words for them...

  • Jezzer


  • PDamian

    "You either hate this movie with every fiber of your overly critical soul, or you check that cynicism at the door and embrace it ...

    But then why not do just that for all films? Why hate on Prometheus for aiming high and failing, but not on Rock of Ages for aiming for cheese and succeeding wildly?

    And sorry, but the music of the 80s is New Wave, Eurodance and ska as far as I'm concerned. Call me when someone makes a movie with music by Madness, Ultravox and Adam and the Ants.

  • zeke_the_pig

    This Is England, mate. That's a pretty ska movie.

  • PDamian

    I watched this today on Netflix, on your recommendation. Damn, that was good! Thanks! And you're right, it's totally ska. Wish the soundtrack were available. Off to iTunes ...

  • alabandincal

    I would sit through that movie 5 times in a row...and come back the next day.

  • Jezzer

    One thing about Tom Cruise that I've always heard, even through all the crazy scientology stories, is that he's a super-nice guy. Which is why I've always felt kind of bad for him when stuff like couch-jumping happens.


  • L.O.V.E.

    This is an awfully earnest review, free of piss and vinegar. (checks url).

    I am a bit confused. (logs out and relogs into Disqus).

    Is this sarcasm? ( checks date to make sure its not April 1).

    Well gag me with a spoon.

  • BWeaves

    BUT, is this a sing-a-long, audience participation movie?

    That made all the difference to Mama Mia.

    Watching it? Blurgh.
    Singing along and drowning out Piece Brosnan? Fun.

  • Goldie

    See now, the fearlessness I respect. All Cruises's other qualities aside, complete abandonment of self into a role will garner my at least grudging admiration; Christian Bale has long earned my respect for that reason.

  • Great review Dustin. I loved this movie, and I am not ashamed to admit it. Well kind of ashamed. Had a blast.

  • Fabius_Maximus


    I was too young during the 80s to listen to this kind of music. So the equivalent for me would be Euro Dance. I still wouldn't go see a musical featuring this kind of music, because this music sucks. I get terribly angry when I have to listen to bad music.

  • Uncle Mikey

    How can you stand Euro Dance, then?

  • Fabius_Maximus

    I can't. That's the point (that I admittedly bungled).

  • Becca Eberman

    I have always known this about Tom Cruise. When everybody was going around saying he was off his rocker, I just knew that he was meditating on top of a mountain somewhere, shirtless and covered in strange symbols, suddenly shouting, "TOOK YOU LONG ENOUGH FUCKERS!" and diving into the endless abyss below. Forget Scientology, I'm pretty sure Tom Cruise is God......

  • And he's the God that Laughs.

  • pajiba

    Upvote infinity.

  • I fucking love Tom Cruise for that, for throwing himself off the tallest building in the world in Ghost Protocol,

    I did, I totes loved him for that. That was some "I-will-die-for-you" level shit, and I believed, hallelujah.

    And yeah, he's crazy, but a sane man doesn't dare play Lestat when he's only 5'8", but Cruise did it.

    And let's face it - I love these songs. Sure they became instantly irrelevant the moment you heard the first chord of Smells Like Teen Spirit, but for a minute there, it was all about these songs.

    Good review.

  • 5'8"?
    In Cuban heels, maybe.
    But yes, I'll probably most likely see this movie (a.k.a. Yes, I'll be seeing this)

  • Honestly, I know he's tiny. I just didn't feel like looking it up, and I'm sure that every reference out there shows him as 6 feet. He's shorter than Oprah, for pete's sake.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    The music became irrelevant when Kill'em All came out. Thank the gods for Metallica.

  • You're off by a few years, and you picked the wrong band. Metallica co-existed with hair metal for years, and was outsold by it, too.
    Nirvana killed hair metal.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    No, Hair Metal became irrelevant, musically speaking. I didn't say it died a much deserved slow and painful death right then.

    Also, Thrash Metal began to sell well at the same time as Nirvana became big, which was mostly due to Metallica's black album, which was released a year before "Smells Like Teen Spirit".

  • Funny, I look at the Black Album as exactly when Metallica became irrelevant, musically speaking. That was the beginning of commercial pap, no better, really, than hair metal.
    They sucked for 20 years, until Death Magnetic. And they even managed to screw THAT up with a brickwalled mastering.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Maybe, but they managed to pave the way into the mainstream for Machine Head, Slayer, Pantera, Sepultura and the likes.

  • ,

    And thank godtopus for that.

    Other bands that coexisted with and offered refuge from hair metal, to name just a few:

    Husker Du
    Bad Religion
    Dag Nasty
    Dinosaur Jr.
    motherfucking Fugazi

    Maybe there's a good musical to be made out of "Our Band Could Be Your Life"?

  • SugarSmak

    Hey. Do not besmirch Journey. They have released many fine songs - it's just unfortunate no one can get past "Don't Stop Believin'" anymore.

    That being said, I won a free movie pass this week and I'm SO using it for this movie. And I'm going to (mentally) sing along with every single song!

  • Katylalala

    Indeed! I saw them in concert with the new guy a few years ago and they were great. They opened with "Separate Ways", which is an undeniably awesome song.

    This movie? I had no desire to see it at all, despite my adoration of All Things Baldwin. But like JenVegas upthread, this review kind of made me maybe want to see it a little...Maybe.

  • Jerce

    They have released many fine songs... Nope, sorry; this statement is false. 80s "metal" was all crap, every single note and every single act. I'm very aware of my cootishness in this regard. Also, I really hate musicals, so I hate even the idea that this thing exists. It has ruined my day. I am taking my ruined day and going home now.

  • Yossarian

    "You either hate this movie with every fiber of your overly critical soul, or you check that cynicism at the door and embrace it"

    No, there's a third option. I'm too confused and bewildered to have an opinion either way. I have no idea what this is or why it exists with a $70M budget in a world I thought I understood. I think I'll stay home and watch tv shows from 2003. I just can't deal with this right now.

  • It exists because Rock Of Ages has been a major stage show for years now. Of course, they were going to make a movie.

  • Tits

    That comment just broke the gaydar.

  • KatSings

    I'm going to see the stage show next week. My friend works in wardrobe. This has been your random fact that you didn't really need to know of the day.

  • $27019454

    And this from a woman who celebrates Barry Manilow's birthday. (Sunday, BTW...get your confetti ready!!)

  • JenVegas

    I can't believe you really just pushed me over the edge down into the depths of actually WANTING to see this movie. Instead of begrudgingly acknowledging that it's probably fun in it's horribleness but never caring enough to view it. Damnit Rowles.

  • AlabasterSalamander

    Me too.

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