Rock of Ages - Tom Cruise goes for broke but hair-metal musical plays it safe

The rude and raucous heyday of 1980s hair metal is relived in this starry screen version of jukebox musical Rock of Ages, but despite the cast’s game efforts the results are disappointingly tame and bland, a toned-down, 12A-version of the era’s X-rated excesses.

Hanging the songs - a pick’n’mix bag by the likes of Def Leppard, Twisted Sister and Poison - from the flimsy peg of a ho-hum boy-meets-girl love story doesn’t help, particularly when Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta’s romantic leads are so comprehensively outshone by the supporting cast.

ROCK OF AGES - JULIANNE HOUGH as Sherrie Christian and DIEGO BONETA as Drew Boley

(Image credit: David James)

Hough’s Oklahoma hick Sherrie and Boneta’s wannabe rocker Drew both have dreams of music stardom. They hook up after Sherrie turns up on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, fresh off the bus from the Midwest, and Drew fixes her up with a waitressing job at legendary rock dive The Bourbon Room.

But the club is on its last legs, picketed by ‘clean-up the Strip’ moral crusaders and facing financial ruin unless Alec Baldwin’s weary manager and hairy Brummie sidekick Russell Brand can put on a gig by rock god Stacey Jaxx.

As burned-out Stacey, drowning in booze and groupies, Tom Cruise goes gleefully over the top, but despite his preening and strutting, his bejewelled jock strap and bare-cheeked chaps, and his lascivious tongue mauling of Malin Akerman’s Rolling Stone journalist, he lacks the element of sexual danger the role needs.

Rock of Ages - Alec Baldwin & Tom_Cruise

That goes for the film too. Its version of debauchery is so insipid that there’s no real reason for Catherine Zeta-Jones’s self-righteous anti-metal campaigner to get so hot under the collar. And when the lovers fall out and fall from grace, Sherrie winds up working in the most wholesome strip club you can imagine, a squeaky-clean joint run by a maternal Mary J Blige. Drew’s degradation, though, is far worse.

Sherrie: I’m a stripper at the Venus Club. Drew: I’m in a boy band. Sherrie: You win.

Rock of Ages sometimes hits the self-mocking mark, but when it comes to the music - the point, surely, of the enterprise - Hairspray director Adam Shankman’s overly slick staging fails to give the numbers the oomph they need to bring audiences to their feet.

On general release from Wednesday 13th June.

Jason Best

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.