Frankly, I didn’t know what to think of Rock of Ages going into it. Before it even began, I was pondering who would actually want to see a movie like it, but then reminded myself that “Glee” is still on the air, and karaoke bars are still a thing, so clearly there is an audience out there who enjoys watching people perform mediocre cover versions of popular rock and pop songs.

And that’s not a pleasure I’d begrudge anybody. One of my favorite barroom moments was when “Don’t Stop Believin'” came on the jukebox, and my table began to sing along, and then the table next to us joined in, and eventually the entire bar was belting it out, too. And I swear that was before the song had so thoroughly jumped the shark. (And indeed, it’s the closing anthem of Rock of Ages, and if that fact doesn’t put the final nail in that song’s coffin, I don’t know what will.)

But moments like that–and even sitting at home singing along with “Glee,” I would imagine–are filled with participatory joy. There’s no arguing Rock of Ages is dumb. Really dumb. But this is a dumbness that can be excused when displayed in a live musical production where people are encouraged to whoop along and applaud after every ridiculous song and dance number. I can see getting into a “Sing-Along” presentation of the movie version, where all the stupid dialogue would be drowned out by post-performance audience chatter, but as it stands now, Rock of Ages is about as entertaining as watching someone else play “Rock Band” for two hours.

No scratch that. It’s more like watching someone play “Rock Band,” and then in between songs, he blathers on about his boring love life, and how all he wants is to be a real rock star, and did you hear they might shut down that awesome club on Sunset?

The movie’s plot differs in many ways from the original musical’s. Gone are a pair of German land developers (?!), who want to shut down the “Bourbon Room” on the Sunset Strip, replaced by a mayor (Bryan Cranston) and his Tipper Gore-esque, rock-and-roll-hating wife Regina (Catherine Zeta-Jones).

That role, incidentally, was actually PRO-rock in the musical, which is just one instance of the film’s often oddly sexist characterizations, especially when we learn Regina has some “slutty” history in her past. This change is also significant because it just adds one more cliche to a movie overflowing with them.

There are a LOT of stories going on in Rock of Ages, and not one of them hasn’t been seen somewhere else before. To wit:

In 1987, a Smalltown Girl (Julianne Hough) ventures to Hollywood to become a star, is immediately mugged, and…

Meets an Aspiring Musician (Diego Boneta) who helps her get at job at the Famous Rock Club where he works as a bar back, which is…

Owned by an Aging Rocker (Alec Baldwin) who is struggling to keep his club open in the face of unpaid taxes and…

A Conservative Mayor and his Tipper Gore-Esque Wife who wants to Shut Down the Evil Club, especially after she learns that…

An ultra-famous, but on the verge of burning out-Rock Star (Tom Cruise) is set to play the club, the final gig with his band, as he’s about to venture on to a solo career at the urging of…

His Sleazy Manager (Paul Giamatti) who’s only in it for the money, and, after bilking the club out of its concert earnings, sees potential in that Aspiring Musician after he…

Gets his big break by filling in for the opening band on Big Show Night, a high which is marred when he thinks he sees his Smalltown Girl in a post-coital embrace with the Rock Star…

Who was actually getting it on with a Music Journalist (Malin Ackerman) who aims to take him down in a Rolling Stone article, but totally falls for him instead…

Meanwhile, Smalltown Girl, after fighting with Aspiring Musician, quits her job, scrambles for money, and is in dire straits when she meets…

A Cynical But Big-Hearted Strip Club Owner (Mary J. Blige) who gives her a job, thus forcing Smalltown Girl to abandon her dreams while…

Aspiring Musician thinks he is fulfilling his, only to learn Sleazy Manager wants him to totally sell out and become the lead in a boy band, and open for…

Big Rock Star’s solo show at the Famous Rock Club, an event that is being heavily picketed by…

Tipper-Gore-esque Wife, who it is revealed has a secret past with…

I think you get the point. Or maybe you don’t get why I’d be complaining about the lack of plot originality in a dumb musical. It’s because it makes any moment when someone isn’t singing a huge, colossal bore. There is nothing surprising going on in any non-musical moment, (and very few during the songs, too).

Add to these multiple recycled plot points the inclusion of such tired tropes as a romantic date at the Hollywood sign, a girl crying in the rain, a reluctant stripper slapping a patron, and a Rock Star with a pet baboon named Hey Man, (OK, I’ll give it props for that one), and you’ve got a movie born for the DVD player’s FF function. (Seriously. It’s a little over two-hours long, but I swear it felt more like four.)

As for the cast, which is a very odd combination of a few nobodies and some big names, well, I guess they’re doing the best they can. Alec Baldwin, who clearly knows the movie he’s in is ridiculous, can’t sing, and always looks like he wants to rip that long wig off his head the minute the director yells “Cut!”. The two young leads are boring, and Hough got an unintentional laugh out of me when she opines that she’s better at singing than dancing to her strip club boss, Mary J. Blige, (who, incidentally, is a better at singing than acting).

Tom Cruise acts with his torso, and sings fine, albeit with a surprisingly high-pitched voice. And really, if he wasn’t in the movie, it would be unwatchable, as he provides the only genuine laughs in the film. (Most of the time. There are a few times where I don’t think we’re supposed to be laughing.)

But ultimately, the only musical moment I actually enjoyed came from Catherine Zeta Jones, and her performance of Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” in a church.

I will admit I’m not the biggest fan of musicals. Seeing people spontaneously burst into song in the middle of a dramatic moment will never not seem weird to me. But at least in “real” musicals, those songs grow organically from the plot. In “jukebox musicals,” of which Rock of Ages may be the worst kind, the songs come first, and a story has to be contorted to fit those songs, sometimes painfully so, with no real regard to the pace of the film, and dramatic arcs. (No to mention we’re mainly talking about hair metal here; that wasn’t exactly the best thing to come out of the 1980s.)

Thus we’re treated to endless mash-ups that have only vague lyrical or thematic similarities, (i.e. “We’re Not Gonna Take It/We Built This City,” or “Harden My Heart/Shadows of the Night”), and ridiculous plot developments like the Aspiring Musician composing “Don’t Stop Believin'” for his girlfriend.

And to quote that song, hopefully for the last time ever, “Oh, the movie never ends/It goes on, and on, and on, and on…”

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the author

Rain Jokinen watches a lot of television and movies and then writes things about them on the Internet. She's a San Francisco native, and yeah, she'll rub that fact in your face any chance she gets.

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  • Jewli

    I agree, if Tom Cruise was not in this piece of crap movie, I would not have even gone. I only lasted an hour before I walked out. I have never walked out on any movie. Rock Of Ages was like Glee on steroids. It was torture.

  • Jewli

    I agree, if Tom Cruise was not in this piece of crap movie, I would not have even gone. I only lasted an hour before I walked out. I have never walked out on any movie. Rock Of Ages was like Glee on steroids. It was torture.