In short, it wasn’t all terrible. It was mostly crap with a few good numbers. Adam Shankman took most of what made the Broadway musical good, threw it out the window, and replaced it with a lot of what makes Hollywood movies terrible.
I should note that I have seen the show. On tour, about a year and a half ago, with Constantine Maroulis who originated the lead role of Drew Bowley, and loved it. I own the soundtrack and love that too, having memorized most of it. It’s not as good as Wicked, not even the best rock musical I’ve ever seen (that has been and always will be American Idiot), but it’s definitely one of my favorite Broadway musicals for many reasons. Enough time has passed that I thought I could watch the movie as a separate entity and not compare it too much to the show. Well, I did end up making comparisons, partly because they were glaringly obvious and unnecessary. The show’s plot was fantastic the way it was, it didn’t need changing.
Well, maybe some parts needed changing. I get not making Lonny – played by Russel Brand in the movie – the narrator as he was in the musical. That was certainly a charming and entertaining aspect of the show but it wasn’t entirely necessary in the movie, it would have been very difficult to pull off on screen. But the threat to the Bourbon Room didn’t need changing. Originally, it was a German developer and his emasculated son that wanted to tear down the sunset strip, rid the city of rock n roll, and put up a bunch of chain stores and high end establishments. Classic eminent domain issue. The Mayor’s assistant, Regina, protested the idea at first and was fired, then spearheading the movement to stop the economic redevelopment and protect the Bourbon Room. I loved her, I loved her number where she belted “We’re Not Gonna Take it” as a protest anthem, she was amazing. To see her taken out of the story for the movie was disheartening. The Germans were also entertaining characters that should have remained. The new storyline, featuring the Christian evangelical mayor’s wife, didn’t have the same spark, even with the twist near the end. It just felt boring and cliché, even for a satire.
Staycee Jaxx was given a huge role in the movie but wasn’t supposed to be so prominent. He was a supporting character who showed up a few times, but in the movie he steals the show. And Tom Cruise is amazing in the role, so much so that he’s part of why the movie is so great. He’s the most rock n roll part of the movie in a lot of ways, being one of the few people with the right vocals, so I can’t argue against this change too much. I’m not crazy what it does to the tone and focus of the movie, but again, since it’s one of the redeeming aspects of the movie I feel compelled to let it be.
Even Sherrie, the female lead of the show and movie (played by Julianne Hough), had her storyline unnecessarily changed. Originally she’s a small town girl who moves to LA to be an actress (“Sister Christian” starts out as an argument between her parents, rather than a ridiculous sing-along on a bus), but stumbles upon the world of Rock n Roll. She eventually has sex with Staycee Jax, and he breaks her heart, and she becomes a stripper. Her romance with Drew is very brief and understated in the beginning, almost one-sided with Drew being crazy for her and she being less crazy about him, leading to the two of them singing “The Search Is Over” toward the end when they realize they’re in love with each other. You could argue that her not having sex with Staycee in the movie makes her a better, more moral person, but since the romance between she and Drew is only budding in the beginning, having sex with Staycee isn’t really that slutty. Staycee is the jerk every woman has dated, or will date at some point in her life, and it makes for a great number when he goes to see her in the strip club and she gets to put on a show for him, while singing to him about what a horrible person he is. What woman wouldn’t want to sing “I Hate Myself For Loving You” to her ex while simultaneously reminding him how hot she is and how he can never touch her again, while he tries to apologize for what a jerk he is? Okay, maybe that’s just me.
I have mixed feelings on Sherrie’s change from being a struggling actress to a struggling singer. On the one hand it gives her a more prominent role in the movie, and makes her more active in the world of rock n roll, rather than let the guys have all the fun like in she show. On the other hand, I wasn’t too crazy about the shift from the easy-going “dreams are cool, but they change and it’s no big deal, life moves on” feel of the show’s ending to the sappy, Glee-like “achieve your dreams, you can do it!” message of the movie. It’s not bad, but it didn’t feel as genuine. It made it more cliché and not in a good way. Don’t get me wrong, I like Glee, but it had no business getting all mixed up with Rock of Ages.
Aside from Staycee Jaxx number and the few times the movie stayed true to the show, there were a couple unexpected sources of delight in the movie. The pole dancing numbers in the strip club, for one thing, were pretty incredible. There was a cute montage with Drew and Sherrie falling for each other set to Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me” that I really liked. But after a good number, the movie quickly went back to being awful. Most of the movie felt forced and fell flat. Many of the “jokes” had me hanging my head, wondering why how much more I had to sit through. A lot of the main actors in the movie did not have the right vocals for a classic rock musical; I found Julianne Hough to actually have one of the weakest voices in the movie, with her voice sounding distinctly country rather than the raw vocals the role of Sherrie requires, though she at least acted the part well enough.
I wouldn’t recommend seeing this in theaters, considering the price of a going the movies these days. Save your money for a better movie – or better yet, save it for the next time the show comes around on tour if you’re interested in experiencing the musical. I would especially discourage fans of the show from seeing it, and I would warn people who with a love of classic rock and a hatred of the watered down, bastardized covers Glee is known for that this movie’s treatment of classic rock songs is even worse. Again, it’s not pure garbage, but it doesn’t have enough redeeming gems to justify the price of a movie ticket.