With his scaling of the tallest building in the world for last year's Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, and now his crazy-good turn as singer Stacee Jaxx in movie-musical Rock of Ages, Tom Cruise has transformed himself into Hollywood's greatest stuntman.
It took big nuts to propel himself off of the Burj Khalifa tower in that harrowing, all-time-classic sequence, and now he has learned to sing and play guitar for his latest flick. It's like he's going down a list of crazy stuff to do in movies, and he's picking the items off, one by one. He's not just crooning soft ballads here; he's belting out some of the biggest crap rock of the '80s with a voice that is some sort of blessed convergence of Axl Rose and Vince Neil. Cruise can sing!
His magnificent rock act is surrounded by a movie that is mildly fun, although his performance is, by far, the best thing about it. Adapted from the Broadway play and directed by Adam Shankman (Hairspray), Rock of Ages features a "girl comes from a small town to make it in showbiz" story that has been told 1,000 times. However, it has never before featured Tom Cruise in a fur coat accompanied by a rambunctious, well-dressed baboon.
Sherrie Christian (a likable Julianne Hough), wannabe singer, starts out the film on a bus, getting fellow travelers and even the driver to join her for a rousing rendition of "Sister Christian" in a goofy yet infectious scene that sets the tone for the movie.
The action winds up at the Bourbon Room, where owner Dennis Dupree (a shaggy Alec Baldwin) is trying to avert financial disaster. His last big hope is the final performance of huge metal-band Arsenal before their singer, Stacee Jaxx, goes solo. Sherrie gets a job at the Bourbon Room thanks to a chance meeting with Drew Boley (Diego Boneta), another up-and-coming singer trying to make it in the big city.
The paint-by-numbers plot, assembled by a team of screenwriters including Justin Theroux (Iron Man 2, Tropic Thunder), is just a place-setter for musical numbers featuring tunes originally turned in by Def Leppard, Pat Benatar, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, etc. There's an occasional good joke about drinking or puking, but the film is mostly a reason for big stars to lip-synch admirably to their own vocal tracks.
Let it be said that I detest hair rock. When characters in this movie talk about the power of rock 'n' roll, I couldn't help but think, "Where's Led Zeppelin or The Who?" This plastic music was all the wow during my teen and college years, a fact that frightens and disturbs me. Oh, sure, the occasional Guns N Roses or Leppard song was OK, but Poison and Motley Crüe almost killed me. And Starship? This is the umpteenth movie to use what is easily the worst song ever recorded, "We Built This City." Hell, the Muppets had it in their movie last year!
The fact that I enjoyed this movie despite this music says a lot about the cast, including Cruise, Russell Brand and Malin Akerman, as a Rolling Stone reporter who shares a funny sex scene with Cruise that includes him using her ass as a microphone.
A song that has always pissed me off would be "Wanted Dead or Alive," with Jon Bon Jovi likening himself to a gunfighter with his oh-so-burdensome rock career. Yet when Cruise sings the song in this movie, it takes on an awesome new life. He, quite frankly, puts Mr. Bon Jovi to shame. This is the first time I've enjoyed listening to that particular track.
Hough, who can dance like nobody else and sports a decent voice, gives us somebody sweet to root for in Sherrie. Boneta is a little hard to take at times as Drew, but I did warm up to him, especially when he was transformed into the lead singer of an awful boy band. Paul Giamatti provides the requisite sleaze factor as Jaxx's conniving manager.
If you go to this movie, know that you will see and hear some amazing stuff from Mr. Cruise. Apart from his stunning vocal work, he has the slithery, messed-up rock-star persona nailed. The man is pushing 50, but he doesn't look a day older than 30 as far as his physique is concerned. While I'm sure they did some studio tweaking to help his voice along, he definitely has a lot to offer with the pipes.
Beyond Cruise, Rock of Ages is just a mildly enjoyable musical goof, sort of like the Across the Universe movie that featured the work of the Beatles—but with far-crappier songs.