Tom Cruise in Rock of Ages: Giving Until It Hurts

Curator's Note

Toward the end of Rock of Ages, washed-up club owner and band promoter Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) receives a bag of cash from Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), an eccentric, sex-crazed, and perpetually bare-chested, strung-out veteran of rock-and-roll. Upon seeing the $3000, which Jaxx's manager initially confiscated, Dennis utters, "That Stacee Jaxx, he gives until it hurts." This line, like much in Rock of Ages, makes little sense. First, nothing in the narrative suggests Jaxx is philanthropic. Second, who's hurting here? Certainly not Jaxx with his limos, Hollywood mansion, and groupies. The statement does, however, make sense when it's ascribed to Cruise's star persona.

Some see Tom Cruise as a(nother) weird Scientologist, a closeted gay man, a fake husband, and/or a surrogate father. Similarly, my colleagues regard "post-TomKat" Cruise as "skeevy," "Level-15 creepy," and someone who "freaks me the hell out." But the star is also widely recognized for his work ethic and performing his own stunts. See, for example, his (alleged) eight-month training ritual for The Last Samurai and firearms/combat training for Collateral; there's also his daring motorcycle maneuver in Knight and Day and running atop the world's tallest building in MI: IV. Finally, whether fabricated or not, Cruise's co-stars also frequently praise him for giving his all during production.

Thus, it's no surprise to learn that Cruise purportedly spent months preparing for Rock of Ages, that his contract allowed him an out if he couldn't sing, and that this preparation, like his stuntwork, was promoted heavily alongside the movie—at least in words. Significantly, unlike his co-stars, Cruise's Stacie Jaxx isn't featured prominently in the original trailer; rather, he's mostly in long-shot, face obscured, back turned, not singing (the second trailer offers a tad more).

Indeed, like Spielberg's dinosaurs, mostly concealed during marketing to lure audiences into theaters (697), Cruise's musical performance and, thus, the question on everyone's mind—can he pull this off?—is unveiled almost only via the movie. And even then, Cruise/Jaxx doesn't perform until nearly 40m in. That the spectacle is withheld this long, in these ways is interesting. But perhaps more notable is that because of his appearance (exposed nipples, roving tongue, tattoos emphasizing his crotch), Cruise/Jaxx remains a spectacle even after his numbers end (31-33). Ah, Mr. Cruise, still giving...



I'm a not so secret fan of the MI movies and consider Cruise's appearance in Tropic Thunder one of the most underrated comic performances in the last decade of film, so I appreciate your post! (I'm troubled by what your film did to my favorite song from my first album ever, Twisted Sister's Stay Hungry, but that's another post.) Your post reminded me of something that I'd be curious to hear your take on: I've noticed some "musical" films seem to be featuring actors who aren't trained singers in singing roles-- e.g.. Kidman and McGregor in Moulin Rouge, Depp in Sweeney Todd, etc. They're appearing at the same time as actors from an earlier generation that often expected their actors to learn to sing as part of their training (Streep in Mamma Mia, Gere and Zeta-Jones in Chicago, etc.)

I'd even go so far to suggest that the former films almost seem to market the uncertainty of their less trained stars' being able to pull it off; they're certainly withholding Cruise's singing performance from us in this preview. Is my suggestion within the realm of possibility, or closer to a cynical fantasy?

Hi again, Nilanjana. Thanks for reading/commenting!

Yes, I think you're right that that "the former films almost seem to market the uncertainty of their less trained stars’ being able to pull it off." Sadly, what else does the industry have to go on these days? ;-) Certainly, as you point out, not real musical talent (I'm thinking of triple-threat stars from the classical era here).

With Hollywood's reliance on the star system in mind, I'm thinking now of Rent (2005), which I just watched for the first time last week. It bombed at the box office for various reasons, no doubt; but certainly one of them must be the film's lack of star power (outside the Broadway scene, I mean). The singing in Rent was SO noticeably good (and except for Dawson's voice perhaps not autotuned)--as it should be with "real" singers/dancers at the helm. It's a shame such talent doesn't (usually) translate to Hollywood.

Thanks again for stopping by!

After so much build up, I'm dying to know, Kelli: how WAS Cruise in this film? What was his singing like? Was he worth the investment?

Also, despite his extratextual craziness (TomKat, Scientology), I am a huge Tom Cruise fan. Like Nilanjana, I thought Cruise's performance in TROPIC THUNDER stole the film. Brilliant, funny, unrecognizable (and not just because of the prosthetics). My second favorite Cruise performance occurs in MAGNOLIA, where he plays a version of himself: hyper-masculine, egocentic, but also fragile. He is one of the main reasons I plan to see ROCK OF AGES. 

Hey--thanks for the comment! Unlike the rest of the people we converse with regularly on Twitter and Facebook (!), I've no problem with Cruise either. I can completely separate his supposed "skeeviness" (which I don't necessarily see), strange behavior on talk-show couches, religious beliefs, etc. from his screen performances. My favorite of his to date is from Collateral (2004).

Because so much of the blogosphere is currently linking Cruise's Rock of Ages performance with his from Magnolia, I figured I ought to watch it the darn film. So I literally just finished watching the first hour of Magnolia while on my treadmill. Perhaps after I survive, er, finish the entire thing and you watch Rock of Ages, we can talk/compare more? 

You write, "he is one of the main reasons I plan to see Rock of Ages." And he is probably the only (or at least the main) reason you should see it. Parts of his performance don't work for me (note his odd, left-leaning walk/posture especially), but overall, I thought he did well with the role, as well as he could with that role. When he finally sings "Wanted: Dead or Alive" (nearly 40 MINUTES IN), I was super impressed--and wanted to know immediately how much autotuning took place (the film's music producer swears there was none, but I'm still skeptical). Anxious to know your thoughts after you watch!

Thanks again for stopping by and reading! =)

Hi Kelly, great post. I have no love for Tom Cruise - I think he's self-centered and a show off, such as in boasting about doing his own stunts. I think he's sort of a parody of the method actor.   Even so, his celebrity is a fascinating case of excess, especially in ensemble productions. The excess seems especially interesting in the musical, and a musical about 80s hair bands.  Even before he sings the film emphasizes Stacey Jaxx's body as a vulgar site of excess within the musical that is only vulgar when seen up close, which is pretty much how I feel about Cruise anyway - look to deeply into Cruise his humanity would crumble.  The film seems to tame Jaxx's vulgarity in association with the personal song written by Drew (intended as a love song for Sherrie) that becomes/has become one of the most famous pop rock anthems of the 80s - "Don't Stop Believing".  I was entertained by the youth romance between Drew and Sherrie and not so much the adult sex fest between Jaxx and the reporter, which sustains up to the very end.  So it frustrates me that Cruise consumes their romance as a source power and fame. It's a contradiction to me because Cruise's musical performances were excruciating for me to listen to, but they complimented his vulgar masculinty. But in part his characterization seemed to emphasiaze the artificiality of the 80s as a modern form of the musical, which the film seemed to be celebrating - as a kind of obvious nod to camp sensibility.  I noticed that there were a lot of "crotch" shots of Cruise from female points of view, too. 

How do you think the film's excessive style and Cruise's excessive characerization of a male pop star relate to the modern musical?  Is the potential of falling in love with a vulgar performance the modern achivement of the modern musical?  Do you think the film musical tames Cruise's celebrity?  Does it then make "weird" (Cruise)  cool? 

Hey, John! Thanks for the questions/comments. Lemme see how many I can get to here. =)

  1. How do you think the film’s excessive style and Cruise’s excessive characerization of a male pop star relate to the modern musical? Other than the MTV-editing (hold a freakin' shot for longer than 2 seconds, Shankman!) and apparent need to feature every single Top 40 hair-band song from the '80s (just choose 10, Shankman!), hmmm, I'm not sure how the "excessive style" relates to the modern musical. I guess we need to define the modern musical here (?) -- because I wouldn't necessarily refer to the style of Enchanted, High School Musical, Footloose, or even Shankman's Hairspray as overly "excessive," if that makes sense. 
  2. Do you think the film musical tames Cruise’s celebrity? Does it then make "weird" (Cruise) cool? Good questions! To the first, no. Shankman's been quoted widely as saying, "I thought if I can get the biggest movie star in the world to play the world's biggest rock star, it would be truly extraordinary." So I'm not sure "taming" is what he (or Cruise?) had in mind here. To the second, as I wrote above to Amanda, I've one of those (few?!) academics who has few problems with Cruise, even though I know all about his extratextual persona. So while the movie, ahem, sucked hard, I was a bit sad to see the poor box office stats over the weekend, which do suggest that Cruise may still not be as "cool" as he once was.  
  3. I think he’s self-centered and a show off, such as in boasting about doing his own stunts. Sure, he comes off a bit self-centered. Aren't most in show business?! =) Still, I kinda respect him (and similar actors) for wanting to get it right and, moreover, for virtually always striving (at least in interviews like this one) to achieve his main goal: "to entertain the audience."

Thanks, Kelli.  I had a great time, and I thought the movie was a lot of fun. But contemporary musicals seem driven to prove their edge in artificial ways, especially by countering the traditional values of the musical with stereotypical sense of modern sexuality. Even Enchanted makes light reference to gay male bondage in one musical sequence. I don't know what the modern musical is except in comparison to early musicals. However, I don't think early musicals were not already critiquing traditional values - it's just that a nostalgic view of the musical's past makes it easier to think they did not.  I think contemporary musicals are excessive in their artifice of history, however, such as Enchanted's reconstruction of Disney animation, Shankman's pop mise-en-scene staging of urban resistance and politics (Hollywood as a soundstage environment), Footloose's surface restoration, and High School Musical's - actually, I think "High School" musical actors and characters are not yet modern/haven't come of age but their use of modern music/technology is, which is why I love high school/youth musicals, such as Rock n' Roll High School - and it celebrates the Ramones! I might say, Moulin Rouge is modern in a global and transnational revision of musical history through contemporary musical production practice (the Bollywood reconstruction of the show at the end).  Tom Cruise (more so than his character) overwhelms the power and potentially progressive qualities of 80s rock stars by consuming the films publicity - by trying double up on Stacy Jaxx to make himself the significance of the Rolling Stone cover not the character.  Cruise is not a musician. I think he tries to control his image, hence the out in the contract if he couldn't pull it off. I really don't think he does (and he does). This is what I'm having a hard time resolving here. Maybe because Stacy Jaxx reminds mr of who Cruise really is but not in musical/muscian sense - Cruise does not deserve the final number - whereas the Broadway actor that played Jaxx would have, I imagine. I'm afraid this film doesn't tame him - the way I would like it too anyway. With Cruise in the role, I kinda wish Jaxx had just died of alcohol poisoning and Sherrie got to perform Drew's "song" for us – concert/film audience.


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