Tom Cruise: Rock god? In the new '80s jukebox musical Rock of Ages, which hits theaters Friday, the insistently ageless A-lister plays Stacee Jaxx, an assless-chaps-wearing, tatted-up hair-metal rocker who belts out "his" hits (actually classics from Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, and Foreigner). The film, which is earning mixed-to-negative reviews, follows a pair of star-crossed, Journey-singing lovers who work at the doomed Bourbon Room bar, which will shut down unless a farewell concert headlined by Cruise's Jaxx is a hit. An all-star cast boasts Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Mary J. Blige donning frightful '80s garb. But it's Cruise who is preoccupying critics. How does he fare in this unlikely role?
Cruise is really bad: Tom must have missed the memo that this is a frothy movie musical, because he plays Jaxx with "unnecessary intensity," says Connie Ogle at The Miami Herald. He treats Rock of Ages like his unsettling drama Magnolia, but "it's supposed to be a blast, not a chore." Every time he appears on screen, he stops the film dead and his musical numbers don't redeem him, either. "You never realized how unique Jon Bon Jovi's wail is" until you hear "Cruise caterwauling 'Wanted Dead or Alive.'" And Cruise's duet with Malin Akerman on "I Want to Know What Love Is" is "downright embarrassing."
"Rock of Ages"
He's not bad... but he's really strange: Cruise's singing voice is passable, but overall, his performance is the "oddest and most absurdly watchable special effect in Rock of Ages," says Ty Burr at The Boston Globe. He turns Stacee Jaxx into the "most intensely focused burn-out in the history of rock," and it's amazing that Cruise has gone from lip-synching Bob Seger in his undies to this puzzling Rock of Ages role. "This has officially become the strangest career in Hollywood."
"Rock of Ages"
For my money, Cruise is the best part: Rock of Ages is shrieky, cheesy, and unfocused, says Kimber Myers at Indie Wire. But Cruise nearly saves it. He commits himself fully to the entire shtick, emerging as "a believable rock star in the vein of the decade's biggest legends." He gives '80s-era Axl Rose, on whom Jaxx is clearly based, "a run for his money for on-stage talent and off-stage debauchery." He even manages to wring laughs out of a mediocre script.
"Rock of Ages is anything but a good time"
Consensus: Cruise works really hard to sell it. If you're a fan of kitschy '80s pop-rock, get excited. Everyone else, plug your ears.