'Rock of Ages,' in Which Only the Aging Stars Rocked

The rock-musical farce, on DVD today, could have worked if its younger lead actors had been in on the joke.

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Warner Bros.

Earlier today, I wrote briefly on Ridley's Scott gorgeous-yet-disappointing, just-released-on-DVD Prometheus. Among the notable scenes in that film is a hand-to-tentacle struggle between two alien species: one, a large and ancient forebear of humanity; the other, essentially, a Georgia O'Keeffe painting come to life, only more overtly sexual.

Remarkably, though, this was not the most muculent confrontation of the summer, or even the month of June. That title must go, inevitably, to a duel involving the tongues (and ears) of Tom Cruise and Malin Akerman in Rock of Ages, much of it staged to the Foreigner power ballad "I Want to Know What Love Is."

What else can be said of Rock of Ages, itself also available on DVD today? Well, many would argue the less the better, and they wouldn't be far off. I'd be marginally more charitable: There are hints throughout of the self-deprecating B-movie rock farce that might have been, but they're ultimately undone by a number of lazy choices and (especially) the movie's disastrously lame young leads:

At the periphery of the story, stars twinkle with irony—Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti—and while some (Cruise, Baldwin) shine more brightly than others (Zeta-Jones), all share a goofy radiance. Move to the narrative center, however, and we discover a black hole: two lead performances by Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, so dull and heavy that they suck all the light and wit out of the film....

At its best, Rock of Ages courts ridicule so openly that it is all but immune to it. Indeed, the first few times the audience at my screening erupted into laughter it was hard to tell whether we were laughing with the film or at it. When an eight-year-old girl on the bus bearing Sherrie to L.A. jumps in with the last line of "Sister Christian," or Baldwin belts out a verse of "Just Like Paradise" with Shatnerian gusto, is it funny in a good way or a bad one? In the end I'm not sure it matters.

Yet every time Hough and Boneto return to center stage—and they are, again, the protagonists—the infectious sense of camp and irony plunges into an earnest stupor. Whereas the movie's supporting stars are always, inevitably, winking at the audience, it's unclear whether the dewy-eyed leads even know how to blink.

A few of the movie's songs—Cruise's "Wanted Dead or Alive," for instance, or Baldwin and Brand's duet of "Can't Fight This Feeling"—offer glimpses of the guilty pleasures to which Rock of Ages aspired. But they're only glimpses, and for anyone seeking such a poor return on invested time, there's always Glee.

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Christopher Orr is a senior editor and the principal film critic at The Atlantic. He has written on movies for The New Republic, LA Weekly, Salon, and The New York Sun, and has worked as an editor for numerous publications.

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