‘Rock of Ages’ is a very mixed bag. I can imagine one half of its audience abandoning their resistance and having fun with it, and the other half shrieking away in horror over its ‘Glee’-ification of popular 80’s hair band anthems. The movie isn’t the cheesy flashback piece that one might have expected (or possibly hoped for). It pays homage more than it lampoons the period, and that contributes to the feeling of innocence and naivete that runs through it.
The material itself is problematic in a severely obvious, paint-by-numbers way, and the two leads (played by Diego Boneta and Julienne Hough) feel dreadfully bland both in performance and vocals. The choreography teeters from horrid (such as the Catherine Zeta-Jones lead rendition of ‘Hit Me with Your Best Shot’) to merely passable. But the mash-ups of hit songs work exceptionally well for the most part, and the movie contains genuine moments of humor.
The bright shining light in the film, without a doubt, is Tom Cruise. There’s an obvious gear in which you can play a character like rock-god Stacie Jaxx, but Cruise takes a unique approach; he’s weary, more than a bit zoned out, and seems to never raise his voice above a heightened whisper in conversation. Seeing him explore a different type of character from his norm is one of the pleasures in the film. His rendition of ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’ (cleverly played for laughs over pathos) and the very funny Alec Baldwin/Russell Brand duet ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’ are highlights.