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Rock of Ages (Adam Shankman, 2012)


Adam Shankman takes on the world of hair metal with his bloated musical Rock of Ages. Perhaps even kitschier than his musical adaptation of John Waters’ Hairspray, this fantasia of fakeness is sure to irk anyone who ever managed to take a power ballad seriously. Rock of Ages is a remarkably wrongheaded film, so schizophrenic, so unsure of its target market that the closest thing to an audience surrogate here is the middle-aged, born-again sell-out played by Catherine Zeta-Jones. Acting as if there is no difference between heavy metal and hair metal, the plot here insists on the need for authenticity, even while Shankman emphasizes the phoniness of his milieu. With Rock of Ages, Shankman has delivered a tone deaf musical that largely eschews choreography or visual spectacle for the sake of an archetypical (i.e. generic) puppy love plot that could not possibly be more mismatched with the spirit of the music that’s inspired the enterprise. Rock of Ages could scarcely rock less if it tried.


Perhaps most shockingly, though, the film’s sound design is horrendous. Songs build to lame crescendos that might be more appropriate on an episode of television’s Glee than a stadium concert. Every once in a while, during a scene transition or a montage, a song by an original artist is played, and the presence of snarling bass and vocal prowess almost comes as a shock. Every time we hear one of these non-cover songs, the extent to which Shankman has castrated what was already a very commercial and approachable mutation of rock music becomes apparent. Only Tom Cruise, who gives a performance that is equal parts magnetic, desperate, sexy and strange and Mary J. Blige, who is only a small step up from her recent, controversial Burger King fried chicken commercial, manage to do the music anything resembling justice.


Cruise, in particular, deserves credit here, offering the closest thing the film has to a fully fleshed out character. Channeling equal parts of The Interview with the Vampire’s Lestat and Magnolia’s misogynist motivational speaker Frank T.J. Mackey, Cruise may not be convincing as a “rock god”, but he convinces as a seductive star presence. To be certain, he delivers the film’s indisputable musical highlight as well. Singing a cover of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” he offers the only grime and carnality in a film far too short on either. Of course, Shankman isn’t even smart enough to recognize a good thing when he’s got it. He undercuts Cruise’s moment of glory by repeatedly cross-cutting from it to some lame plot developments. It’s unfortunate that Cruise’s performance hasn’t been captured in a better film. Rock of Ages winks at us, but the joke’s on the film, which feels more dated and lame in its stale Broadway conventions than any Warrant song ever will.



Jeremy Heilman