A Bizarre Tom Cruise Flop Just Arrived On Netflix
Tom Cruise gave maybe his most committed performance ever in this deeply bizarre movie newly arriving on Netflix.
Over the course of his long and immensely successful career, Tom Cruise has often been accused of playing it safe. While he has played a surprisingly wide variety of roles in his career, Tom Cruise has increasingly been thought of as that action guy who always runs in his films. Now that he seems firmly, permanently ensconced in the Mission Impossible franchise and got great mileage out of returning to Top Gun, Tom Cruise might never leave. It also does not help that when he has tried to move out of his comfort zone, audiences largely have rejected it and handed him his rare flops. Case in point: Rock of Ages, the bizarre 2012 jukebox musical that tried to turn the worst rock of the 1980s into a touching boy meets girl story. Rock of Ages just landed on Netflix, where it may very well achieve a kind of ironic cult status soon.
Rock of Ages stars Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx, a debauched rock star visually patterned after Axl Rose, but pretty much the embodiment of the idea of a sleazy, permanently drunk frontman. The movie is set in 1987 in a Los Angeles that is essentially a cleaned-up, carefully styled version of the kind of gross excess it enjoyed in the heyday of hair metal. It is mostly set in the Bourbon Room, a grimy yet well-lit rock club overtly based on L.A.’s infamous Viper Room; the club is owned by Alec Baldwin, who has a (theoretically) simmering romantic chemistry with his assistant Lonny (Russell Brand). But while Tom Cruise is the real draw for both the movie and within the narrative itself, the real protagonists are Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and Drew (Diego Boneta).
Sherrie is a recent transplant from Oklahoma with big dreams of becoming a singer, who gets her suitcase of records stolen moments after she is literally off the bus. Drew is a barback at the Bourbon Room who also has big dreams of becoming a musician. They meet on the street, he gets her a job at the club, they fall in love, out of love, reconcile, and so forth. It is unfair to describe their part of the story as cliched, because this is a movie that is based in the tropes of 1980s rock and thus has predictable, high-volume emotional beats. There is also a subplot about Catherine Zeta-Jones (as a rocker turned Machiavellian conservative cultural protestor) and her husband Bryan Cranston (as the philandering L.A. Mayor) trying to turn the Sunset Strip into a squeaky clean…something or other. It is not exactly clear what their plans are, but basically, they hate rock n’ roll.
All of this is window dressing around getting Tom Cruise on stage to shirtlessly belt out Bon Jovi. To be fair, Tom Cruise acquits himself well as a singer and appears to be having a lot of fun playing a gross, sexually magnetic rocker who wakes up in a demon-skull codpiece. Given that this is a musical, pretty much everyone is singing, all the time. Rock of Ages climaxes with Drew writing the eternal Journey ballad “Don’t Stop Believin’” for Sherrie, a song so powerful that it solves everyone’s problems and convinces Tom Cruise to impregnate a journalist played by Malin Åkerman and clean up his act, kind of. It is a weird turn, but then again, it is a weird movie.
Much of the weirdness can be put on the tricky task of adapting a hit stage musical into a PG-13 movie starring Tom Cruise. Rock of Ages (which was directed by director, dancer, and choreographer Adam Shankman) cleans up pretty much every part of the story of the original musical, which is both ironic and fatal for a movie about dirty-ass rock n’ roll. In the original, Sherrie quits her waitress job at the Bourbon Room and becomes a stripper. In the movie, she becomes… a waitress at a different place. In the original, Stacee Jaxx and Sherrie have sex after she has a fight with Drew. In the movie, Drew just thinks they have sex, but they don’t.
Most tellingly of all, the original musical ends with Stacee Jaxx being a washed-up has-been charged with statutory rape who flees that country. The movie has Tom Cruise get his band back together and perform a triumphant concert. There literally could not be a better way to demonstrate how strange and lukewarm this movie is about the rock n’ roll lifestyle is kind of, sort of celebrates.