So it turns out, you can totally judge a book by its cover. Or in this case, a movie by its trailer.
I made some snap judgments about Rock of Ages based on the short trailer that was released. After attending a screening of the film last week, it turns out that my early critiques of the film were pretty on point. There are some changes made from the Broadway production and I would argue that none of them are for the better. The film just isn’t very good; if given the choice, go see the play instead. It is vastly superior.
I had suspected from the trailer that they had beefed up the role of Stacee Jaxx in the movie, which makes sense; in a movie where the leads are not necessarily household names, you want to capitalize on the casting of Tom Cruise. What I didn’t predict, however, is that they totally changed the character in the process. While the Stacee Jaxx of the play is a cad, the character in the film version is much more sympathetic. He is also much more eccentric than the stage version, as he is followed everywhere by a pet monkey named “Hey Man” and seems to be in an alcohol haze for most of the film.
While all these changes give Cruise more things to play with in the role, I just never embraced the idea of him as Stacee Jaxx. Cruise did a good job, but he just never disappeared into the character. There wasn’t a moment when he was on screen that I didn’t think “hey – it’s Tom Cruise” and I stand by my earlier assertion that Cruise is just too old to be playing this part. This may just be my particular hang up, however. Most critics have been happy with his performance and he’s received the seal of approval from Bret Michaels and Def Leppard, so what do I know (Side note about Def Leppard: they refused to allow any of their songs to be used in the Broadway show, even though the title comes directly from a Def Leppard song. However, two of their songs are in the movie and the band is everywhere trying to cash in on it, which seems a little disingenuous to me). Cruise’s singing was better than expected, but it was amusing how all the actors in the movie really articulated the lyrics of the song so clearly. I realized that despite the fact that most of the songs in the movie I had heard a million times before, I didn’t actually know the correct words to a lot of them. Enunciation isn’t very metal.
Even if I didn’t fully embrace Cruise, he is definitely the best thing about Rock of Ages. The movie is kind of campy, though I never could figure out if that was what they were necessarily going for or if that was just the end result. Though it is a movie about the hair metal scene of LA, it’s all very sanitized and saccharine sweet. The central boy meets girl story of Drew (Diego Boneta) and Sherri (Julianne Hough) is even more ridiculous than it was in the play – it always frustrates me when the entire premise of the conflict is a simple misunderstanding that could be solved with a 30 second exchange where people say what they are actually thinking. Neither actor is talented enough to bring much to the role other than the bare minimum. Alec Bladwin isn’t given much to do except try to sell the terrible dialogue he is given and wear a bad wig. The most rock and roll member of the cast, Russell Brand, has been completely defanged; he doesn’t have much of a role either, but he is pretty cartoonish in the little screen time he does get. It’s too bad, because the two actors work well together. I was relieved to see that the amusing development for these two characters that occurs in the play was kept in the movie. I figured it might be cut to make room for more Cruise. Catherine Zeta-Jones also has a bit part, but her subplot is particularly poorly written and the choreography for her performances is so terrible that it makes her and everyone involved in them look preposterous. It is generally all a mess.
The movie could have possibly been saved if the musical performances had been better or more inspired, but even those were kind of meh. I love the songs from that era and genre, but they just weren’t doing it for me. And once Mary J. Blige gets a chance to sing, you realize just how “enhanced” a lot of the other performances probably are. She blows them all away.
My movie going experience was also not enhanced by the woman I sat next to. She thought just about everything in the movie was hilarious (and I mean everything) and laughed very loudly and exclaimed “Oh my God” about every thirty seconds. Perhaps she was a relative of the woman I sat in front of at the Men in Black 3 screening. The rest of the time, she and her companion repeatedly conversed throughout the film. Her companion was there as a critic, so you’d think he’d know better. So I missed a lot of the dialogue for the first third of the movie; if it had been better written I would have been more upset.
I understand that this is supposed to be a silly little summer movie and isn’t made to be taken seriously; I don’t mind fluff in and of itself if it is done well. But there are way too many problems with Rock of Ages for me to recommend it. If you want to see Cruise’s turn as a rock god, wait until it is out on DVD.