Rock Bottom of Ages: How Exactly Did This Rock Musical Fail?

Posted June 18, 2012 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

Just how did this hair-metal musical transform into a box office flop

I’m not one to instigate just to instigate, but it is my belief that Hollywood has its own hidden agenda and set of crony politics. It wants to see certain people succeed (usually the less-talented) and others to get out of town. But films with lots of magnetic charm usually perform well at the Box Office, which proves to be the ultimate paycheck and reward for Hollywood’s finest. Still, even with certain films falling to the pits of hell in the hands of critics and low theater turnouts, certain stars somehow continue to find work.

Julianne Hough worked her way up the ranks on Dancing With the Stars as a two-time Ballroom Trophy winner, training B-list superstars on how to cha-cha, ramba and to do the salsa. But she’s grown tired of the dance floor and is putting on a new pair of shoes in hopes to become the next Hollywood superstar. She tried becoming a country singer, but that didn’t go so well. Now her eyes are fixated on becoming the next box office dame. And why not: She’s got lots of inspiration to look up to. Look at American Idol contestants Katharine McPhee and Jennifer Hudson, who have both put aside their shaky musical careers to focus on more job opportunities in acting (McPhee’s got the NBC hit show Smash, Jennifer Hudson’s got Weight Watchers – what you’re laughing at, that’s acting).

But Hough is having a terrible time trying to find her A-game. Besides tugging on her Idol-connected partner/boyfriend Ryan Seacrest, she’s made big appearances in big motion pictures like Flashdance and Burlesque. But what you might not know about those films, besides them having a musical tint to their plots, is that they were box office failures.

In her newest Hollywood assignment, Hough appears alongside a cast of paparazzi favorites including Top Gun/Mission Impossible mega-superstar Tom Cruise, funnyman Russell Brand, urban soul legend Mary J. Blige, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Alec Baldwin in the Adam Shankman-directed Rock of Ages, the latest Broadway musical adaption to be put on the big screen. Disastrously so, all of these superstars combined couldn’t save Rock of Ages from “livin’ on a prayer.” On its opening weekend, the film only made $15.1 million despite its $75 million budget. Making matters worse, it debuted under last week’s openers, Madagascar 3 and Prometheus.

So what turned this over-blown, over-hyped, over-advertised heavy metal musical into a Guitar Hero fiasco?

1. Rock gods don’t like their rock on the rocks – decorated with ‘Disney on Ice’.

It was destined to fall apart anyway. Even Guitar Hero angered some of the greatest guitar pros when it became a commercial appetizer in the gaming world. So there must have been a few concerns that Rock of Ages would stumble into the theaters. From the trailers and TV commercials, the film’s soundtrack made a mockery out of rock classics from Bon Jovi (“Wanted Dead or Alive’), Whitesnake (“here I Go Again”), Journey (“Any Way You Want It,” “Don’t Stop Believin’”), Foreigner (“Waiting for a Girl Like You”), Twisted Sister (“We’re Not Gonna Take It”) and Pat Benatar (“Hit Me With Your Best Shot”), turning them into plastic karaoke cuts. Sure the songs are timeless, but if it isn’t authentic. And if it’s not in a documentary, it’s only good enough for rock revelers to urinate on.

2. The heavy advertising proved to a major turnoff.

Yahoo! must’ve gotten paid big bucks by Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema. For almost a week, the opening log-in page for my Yahoo! Mail account featured a heavy billboard sporting the cast of Rock of Ages and a video clip of their official trailer. I normally wouldn’t complain over the ad space, especially knowing that Yahoo! is providing thousands, like me, a free service. But over the last few months, Rock of Ages has been shoved in the faces of the buying public. Hough and her fellow cast members made their round of pop-up appearances on daytime talk shows like Live with Kelly, The View, The Talk, The Insider and Hollyscoop. And there was the W front cover. Then, Rock of Ages became the focal point during the last batch of finalist rounds on this year’s American Idol (even scaring the public to thinking Ryan Seacrest was going to propose to her on national television). Certainly promotion is a part of making dollars multiply, but if done wrong and poorly, it can easily annoy.

3. Critical reviews hasn’t been so good…except for the praise on Tom.

Tom Cruise steals the show. Case closed. It even has Rolling Stone magazine believing Cruise might be an Oscar contender. (“Cruise doesn’t wink at his role. He plays it from the inside, which makes it twice as much fun,” RS’s Peter Travers said) Don’t stop believin’, Rolling Stone.

Cruise, who plays Stacee Jaxx, a rock star swirling in a world of drugs, sex and fame, gets into character using the same kind of intensity and passion Eddie Murphy used in his Oscar-worthy role in Dreamgirls. Heck, the Risky Business star even learned how to sing and play guitar just for this role. So let it be known, Cruise is the glue that makes this movie works. Rolling Stone goes a step further to say that the soundtrack saves the film. But Rotten Tomatoes paints a different kind of picture.

With an overall rating of 43%, the film is a critical disappointment. Certainly RS is going to salvage the film: It’s a movie based on great rock music and it looks like the Mamma Mia of Rock.

Richard Roeper shared some of the same sentiments I had when he said: “Every time an actor belts out a hit, you’re reminded that the original, however cheesy, was better.”

The Detroit News chimed in, saying, “For the most part, rock and roll should feel insulted.”

New York Post went on to say, “This plodding mess may help put to rest Hollywood’s inexplicable two-decade love affair with the awful ‘80’s, a pop culture decade that’s overdue for a break.”

USA Today scorched the film, by stating, “Don’t stop believing. Just avoid cliched musicals that try to capture the anarchic spirit of rock with trite commercial re-treads.”

So the critics are mostly on one accord with this film being a disaster internally. The buying public are the ones that can save this from being a disaster externally. So far, it’s a disaster on both ends.

4. Julianne Hough, Mary J. Blige and Russell Brand all need to return to what they do best.

Julianne Hough, Dancing With the Stars needs you.
Mary J, soul music needs you.
Russell Brand, Katy Perry needs you.

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine



    Honest review. I wanted to see the movie, but now I don’t! LOL

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