Rex Reed, Manohla Dargis and other top reviewers tee off on Adam Shankman's adaptation of the Broadway hit
America's top critics were none too eager to return to the era of hair bands and Reaganomics with "Rock of Ages."
The new musical, which unfolds across the Sunset Strip circa 1987 and features Tom Cruise as a rock god in the Axl Rose mold, received its fair share of brutal reviews, earning a 42 percent "rotten" rating on the critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
Directed by "Hairspray"s' Adam Shankman, the big screen version of the Broadway show opens Friday. It centers on a group of rock 'n' roll stragglers, icons and aspirants as they band together to try to save a famous music club from being torn down.
Many reviewers savaged the film's Poison- and Foreigner-laden soundtrack and flimsy plot, but a few treated Cruise's musical debut with kid gloves, praising the reedy voiced star for a good effort.
TheWrap's Alonso Duralde accused the film of aimlessness, griping that the plot was an unappetizing mixture of “Burlesque” and “The Apple.”
"The film’s thudding literalism doesn’t help, either; when someone sings about standing on a corner in the rain, you can just bet that they’ll be singing that line on a corner. In the rain," Duralde wrote.
He did offer modest praise for Cruise's performance as heavy metal singer Stacee Jaxx, saying he provided the film's "…only jolts of actual rock-and-roll danger."
But Duralde's criticism amounted to a rave compared to Rex Reed's evisceration of the picture. The notoriously ornery New York Observer critic larded up on put-downs while labeling the film "…as entertaining as an iron lung."
"I haven't seen a movie this bad since 'Battlefield Earth' and 'Howard the Duck,'" Reed wrote.
The New York Times' sage Manohla Dargis also found herself in the "it's a dud" camp, calling the jukebox musical "junky" and "insipid"…and those were her gentler adjectives. Her major grievance was Shankman's timidity when it came to capturing rock's Dionysian pleasures.
"There isn’t any grit to these people or their art, not a speck of dirt anywhere," Dargis wrote. "It looks like Disneyland and sounds, well, like a bad Broadway musical, with all the power belting and jazz-hand choreography that implies."
The Boston Globe's Ty Burr agreed that the film was silly and overlong, but felt that it was enjoyably cheesy.
"Welcome to the new karaoke night: 'Rock of Ages' desecrates three grand traditions — Broadway musicals, movie musicals, and rock ’n’ roll — but you’ll still come out humming the tunes," Burr wrote.
The Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan was much higher on the mash-up musical, calling it the "guiltiest of guilty pleasures" and praising its energy and slender ambitions.
"Fun is definitely the byword here, manufactured by accomplished filmmaking all around, with a special nod to the costumes of Rita Ryack and Mia Michaels' choreography," Turan wrote. "Just like the song says, they built this city onrock 'n' roll, and that can't be bad."
Also head-banging along to the 80's throwback was Slate's Dana Stevens, who praised the plucky singing and dancing turns by the likes of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Paul Giamatti, and positively raved about Cruise's off-beat work.
"Cruise’s portrait of the rock star as empty-eyed nihilist doesn’t really belong in this gaudy pop trinket of a movie—it’s both too outsized and too inward—but that’s precisely what makes for its fascination," Stevens wrote. "'Rock of Ages' is only recommended for audiences with a taste for highly processed cheese, but it did leave me hopeful that the next decade may see the rise of Weird Tom Cruise."