No. Let’s not.
True Confession: I’m a gigantic Rocky fan. The Rocky Horror Picture Show was the second movie I ever saw into double-digits in the theater, the first being Star Wars: A New Hope. And it’s a tossup which one of those movies was the most influential in my life, but reality says it’s a tie.
However, I’m not against remakes, even remakes of a film I adore. If they’re done well. I can see the original any time, and if the remake is great, well, then that’s another way to enjoy the story.
By now, everyone’s chimed in on how awful this made for TV movie is. But a lot of people didn’t watch it all the way through. And it’s Rocky! I wanted to see it for myself.
The hubs and I chose to wait and watch it on Halloween. He’s not a big Rocky fan – he watches because I love it, but he has no attachment to the characters, songs, or script. Ergo, there are two viewpoints on this movie, one from the lifelong fan and one from the person who couldn’t care less.
We both hated this. And after ten minutes we were hate watching it. We watched it through to the end, to see if it got better or worse. Worse, all the way through. Just when we’d hope for an improvement, nope, it got worse than the prior five minutes had been.
The hate isn’t because director and choreographer Kenny Ortega changed things. It’s because every single choice he made was the wrong choice. Every single one.
And I want to systematically go over why his choices were so wrong, because, despite everything, this movie’s heart was in the right place. Nothing else was, to be sure, but A for effort.
We’ll start with the most annoying, throw you out of the movie thing Ortega did. The opening number is sung by the Usherette (Ivy Levan) – a character that doesn’t exist in the original movie or stage play (I’ve seen the British touring company’s version that came through Los Angeles in the 1980’s, and I owned every book about this movie at one time) – and it shows people coming in to watch… The Rocky Horror Picture Show (also not in the original). And we go back to them, these people in a movie theater, over and over again. Not only is this technique one sure to remind the audience that they’re “watching” something instead of experiencing it, it also reminds you that it’s a lot more fun to go to a theater and watch the original movie with others who love it than sit through this clunker.
Next up, and utter death for a movie musical, it was clear from the first note Levan sang that she was lip syncing. Everyone is lip syncing. Every single one. This is a sin. In order to actually enjoy a musical, the viewer MUST feel that the people are really singing. Sure, many/most times they are not. But a GOOD actor makes you believe that they are.
There were only two actors who managed this – Adam Lambert as (a totally miscast) Eddie and Ben Vereen as (a totally miscast) Dr. Scott. These two have both stage presence and experience, and it showed. They’re both awful, though Lambert’s less so, but still, you actually think they’re singing, not lip syncing.
Ben Vereen clearly needed the money, so someone good give this talented man a decent role, because he was in an Albert Einstein wig, mugging for whatever camera he could find, and doing a bad job with his part. You know, just like everyone else. (Ben, really. You did All That Jazz and you said yes to… this?)
I can’t say if any of these people other than Lambert and Vereen can sing, because they were lip syncing, so anyone could have been doing their voices. I can only say that Lambert and Vereen can sing because I’ve seen them in other things.
Speaking of casting… when you have songs that reference cross-dressing, and the point of the shock is that it’s a man waltzing about in a leather teddy, casting someone who is a woman in the role that was always intended for a man is ridiculous. So Frank N. Furter (the lovely and, say it with me, totally miscast Laverne Cox) saw a woman and wanted to dress like her? Um, Frankie’s a woman, so… yeah, most of us want to dress like women. There is zero cross-dressing that Frankie does. NONE. Because she’s a WOMAN.
Yes, I know Cox is a transgendered woman. BUT she is a woman now. She has very large breasts and an extremely curvy figure. And at no time is that referenced – no line is added to share that Frank is REALLY from Transsexual, Transylvania. We’re just supposed to “know” and that makes it all “work”. Only it doesn’t.
So, Ortega took the whole gay vibe and turned it into a lesbian vibe. Normally I might not care, but this change destroys most of the point of the screenplay. So Brad (Ryan McCartan) enjoys sleeping with a woman? And so does Rocky (Staz Nair) but prefers Janet… why? And Janet (Victoria Justice) loses what to Frank? It can’t be her virginity, as happened in the movie and stage play. Um… missing the point.
Basically, Ortega took 90% of the gay/avant-garde/counter-culture vibe out of this movie and turned it into a soft porn fantasy for straight men, which wasn’t the actual point of the original.
Now, for the acting. As someone I was discussing this with said, it’s as if the actors were all playing caricatures of the characters from the movie, NOT playing the characters. And they were all overly campy versions, too. The original is camp but it’s played straight, which is why it works. This one is played with all the extra camp possible and expects the audience to love it. I used to dress up and perform as Columbia – if I’d wanted to see that, I’d have gone to the midnight movie and watched people act along with the movie. (And it would still have been better than this.) Cox is great in many things, but she is NO Tim Curry, and her bizarre imitation OF Curry as Frank ranks up there with performances out of the Ed Wood oeuvre.
Speaking of Curry – he was cast in the role of the Narrator/Criminologist. He’s had a stroke and is hanging in there, and, even though he’s laboring still manages the best performance. Sadly, this isn’t really much of a compliment. Because Curry can’t get out of that wheelchair, half of the Narrator’s role was cut. With the other changes made, you almost didn’t need the character at all. But at least Curry managed to deliver his lines decently. Timing, apparently remains with you.
Speaking of timing, seemingly it can’t be learned. This movie is a musical comedy. And comedy requires expert timing or else it falls horribly flat. Never have I revered Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Richard O’Brien, Little Nell, Peter Hinwood, Patricia Quinn, Meat Loaf, Charles Gray, and Jonathan Adams as much as watching this wretched remake. There isn’t a single actor who has any comedic timing at all.
Nair as Rocky is okay, but he doesn’t have one iota of the original’s sweet appeal – you don’t care about this Rocky, at all. Reeve Carney looks the part for Riff Raff, but he’s doing his copy of Richard O’Brien and not managing. Christina Milian is merely dull and boring with no presence and less sex appeal as Magenta. But Annaleigh Ashford as Columbia is a travesty. In her defense, at least she seemed to be trying to make the role her own. However, making every choice opposite the ones Little Nell did was not the way. She appeared to be reading her lines off of cue cards, or else she feels that the Shatner Pause is a stylistic choice that she can pull off. She cannot.
Next up, the score. Music is set to certain beats for a reason. In That Thing You Do, the drummer changes the slow, sleepy song the lead singer has written into a poppy, fun number that skyrockets the group to one hit wonder fame. However, the beats in this musical are carefully set to give the audience the right feeling for what’s coming and going on – this movie succeeded because of the score, because it’s so damn perfect. And Ortega chose to alter every, single song in terms of tempo, delivery, and so forth. The less said about the real horror – his version of “Let’s Do the Time Warp Again” – the better.
The choreography is, for the most part, merely mediocre. This is supposedly Ortega’s wheelhouse, and he had his chance to really impress with Time Warp. He muffed it, very badly. And his follow up, Lambert’s big number, “Whatever Happened to Saturday Night” was worse – a weird copy of Meat Loaf’s performance with less enjoyment and absolutely no feeling of much of anything when Frank kills Eddie.
Costuming is also merely okay. Cox is constantly decked out in fancy numbers that scream “I’m a Woman!” which, again, made the songs just seem stupid and weird and nonsensical. The few other changes to costuming were banal – changing Janet from a pink suit into a blue one, how daring! Columbia’s in capris instead of shorts, bold choice! And so on.
The sets are also merely okay. They don’t give you any of the feeling of place that the original sets did. You’re always aware that you’re watching a play, especially since there’s a band, a piano player, and backup singers hanging around. Why ask why?
But you’re not watching a live play, since everyone’s lip syncing. And not a professional play, because everyone’s terrible. No, you’re watching someone’s weird home video of a high school play where the only source material is the original movie and the direction is to be as much like the originator of the role as you can with one change that will make your performance unwatchable. For most of the cast, that change was to recite their lines really badly.
In a desperate effort to say something, anything, nice about this debacle: McCartan reminded me of Brendon Urie from Panic! At the Disco, who is a very attractive man. Only Urie is also an amazing performer who has true stage presence and doesn’t lip sync and the jury is very much out on McCartan. But looks-wise, he was nice.
I cannot believe I’m writing this line but: The Rocky Horror Picture Show – Let’s Do the Time Warp Again is no High School Musical. HSM is Citizen Kane compared to this misguided “homage”.
Somewhere in the future, you may see this rerunning on TV. It may be available for streaming. In the bargain DVD bin for only a dollar. It might be 3am and you’re lonely and there’s this remake, shyly suggesting that you might be the one person who will love it. I wrote all these words so that, when this temptation comes upon you, you’ll be able to resist its (lip synced) siren song. If you want to go over to the Frankenstein place, grab The Rocky Horror Picture Show, not this. Never this. Let’s never do this Time Warp again.
Rating: 1 Star