I want to start by saying that I really wanted to like this movie. I went in trying to be positive yet still with a low expectation. Somehow, it still managed to not live up to those low expectations. I get it. It’s hard. The original movie is a cult classic. You can, and I do, still go see at midnight in theaters across America with a shadow cast and the props and all the wonderful atmosphere and raunchy fun that originated when the film first came out.
The first time I saw Rocky Horror Picture Show I was around 12 or 13 and I just thought it was weird, but I was oddly drawn to Tim Curry. He was this perfect blend of feminine sultriness and masculine bravado. I watched it again and again and again and finally when I was 15, one of my best friends took me to see it at the Devon Theater on Frankford Ave and that was when I fell completely in love. The yelling, the throwing of things, the cast acting out the movie and adding their own campy flare, despite having seen it many times, I truly felt like the RHPS virgin I was. But it was then that I realized that within this brilliant B movie, there was an underlying theme of sexual identity and gender fluidity that was far ahead of its time. I never thought a man in drag would be so attractive but Tim Curry as Frank N. Furter was one of the sexiest things I had ever seen.
It was gritty, it was weird, and it had a punk rock attitude that hit home the main theme of the movie: don’t dream it, be it. Unfortunately, I wish the director, Kenny Ortega, had not taken that so literally. I, and I am sure countless others, would’ve preferred if he just kept dreaming and never brought us the living nightmare that is The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do The Time Warp Again. This made for TV, modernized, over-stylized version of the original fell flatter than Shock Treatment, the little known sequel to the original that was pretty awful itself but eventually earned cult status amongst Rocky diehards. I really don’t see that happening with this movie. Especially considering the title song alone, Shock Treatment, is better than every bastardized version in this of the music from my favorite movie soundtrack of all time, combined.
So where do I start? Let’s start on a positive note. I did think that Adam Lambert was great as Eddie. Now, how the song was performed and how he meets his end, was cartoon like but not in a good way, but that isn’t his fault. He was one of the only people to nail his character, granted, Eddie is not a major character and should be easy to pull off, but still. The other thing I liked was Magenta’s costume at the end. Not that I don’t love the original costume and Bride of Frankenstein hair, but I was digging the Transvestite native garb in all silver with crazy balls in her hair.
Let’s talk about Magenta. The mysterious and smoldering voyeuristic domestic who casts her gaze upon everybody and everything, except her brother Riff Raff, as though she is over it. However, this new Magenta seemed to take on the original Columbia’s personality. In fact, it was like they switched them. Columbia becomes the brooding, deep voiced, dark femme presence in the castle while Magenta gets bright pink hair and a peppy new attitude. Who’s to blame? Christina Milian and Annaleigh Ashford? They definitely would’ve been better suited playing the opposite role. Ashford had the despondent, sulkiness we originally saw from Patricia Quinn while pop queen Milian reminds me much more of Lil Nell. Did I mention that Columbia’s tap dance routine during the Time Warp is done in combat boots? Is that even a thing?
Reeve Carney as Riff Raff is a little unimpressive as well. Again, we are missing the lamentation. Riff Raff and Magenta have been on Earth for a while now. They are tired of Frank and long to be home on a planet that is clearly more open sexually. This does not come through at all. It’s rather surprising in the end when they turn on Frank. What is the motivation to go home? We never see it. We also never really get the gist that Columbia still longs to be loved by Frank. She seems even more over him than Riff and Magenta are . It’s kind of ridiculous how much that changes the tone of a “not to be taken too seriously” story, but it does.
Brad and Janet where ok, but playing the stereotypical All American couple is not a hard thing to do. Because the whole movie seems to drop character development for costume changes, they still fall a bit short as well. It was also interesting how much they played up Brad falling for Frank. It’s not blatant but it’s not nearly as subtle as the original, to the point that Brad seems really sad about Riff killing the mad doctor. I actually thought this was a slap in the face to the original movie. Any romantic or sexual interaction between them would have been homosexual in the 1979 film. Gay male scenes are not nearly as common or as socially acceptable as the idea of two females, so the relationship between them pushed the envelope of what mainstream American audiences were willing to accept. This is why Lavern Cox as Dr. Frank N. Furter creates some problems.
Now, don’t get me wrong, she was a selling point for me. I love her as an actress and she kills it on Orange Is The New Black but do you notice the pronouns I’m using here? Whether you need to distinguish the fact that she is transgender or just refer to her as a woman, bottom line is she is a female which for me drastically changes the original point. I do not think she would consider herself a man in drag however that’s what Tim Curry was. A man dressed in what would be considered feminine lingerie. I guess the fact that she is transgender is supposed to be what’s challenging the mainstream perception but visually it does not do the same. Instead of a corset that exposed Curry’s chest and nipples, she has full on, big and beautiful, breasts and is referred to over and over in the movie as a she. This just doesn’t have the same impact as the original. When we are getting to a point where we challenge the idea of labeling clothing as male and female, I think that for her to have been a truly effective Frank, they needed to dress her in a masculine way. A female, and yes, I consider her a female, in feminine clothing just doesn’t do it.
Let’s talk about the clothing for a minute. One of my favorite call backs is in the scene where Frank is sneaking into the bedrooms of Brad and Janet in order to trick them in to fooling around with who they believe is each other. They blame Frank for what they consider to be sexual misconduct and the audience yells “Sue’s to blame, she did the costumes.” Sue Blane claimed she didn’t research her designs, instead that her costumes influenced the style of punk rock with dyed hair and ripped fishnets. This movie however was just an over stylized mess. Gone are the leather jacket and corset with fishnets and heart tattoo on the bicep all topped with an oversized strand of pearls for just the right touch of class. Now it’s all glitter and lace and a skull choker. Ugh…just uggghhh. Columbia suffers as well. They lose her rainbow glitter booty shorts and iconic red hair topped with a golden, glitter top hat and replaces it with a long tutu, t-shirt and rainbow, sparkle, combat tap boots. Thank Jeezy the rest of the cast basically stays the same even though Eddie looked more like a Hot Topic valued customer and less like an authentic greaser and Rocky of course had to trade in his speedo for ball shorts, I assume because its network television.
The overall tone of the movie was too over dramatic, too cheesy, too over-stylized. It lost its grit, its air of punk rock, and its avant garde attitude towards sex and gender roles and traded it all in for a 90 minute Target commercial. One of the worst scenes is when they sing Wild And Untamed Thing while completely channeling Tina Turner’s performance of Proud Mary. From Cox’s hair and outfit, right down to the dance routine, my first thought was “Ike Turner is gonna sue somebody!” There were so many moments like that in this movie. Scenes that had me shaking my head and saying no, no, noooooo. Somehow, the Glee tribute to Rocky Horror was better than this. How? Why?
I’m sure there will be plenty of old school fans that will delight in a version that’s been cleaned up, polished, and presented in a way they can watch with their kids and reminisce over how much they loved the original. That’s a good thing. I am also positive that younger generations may see this and become interested enough in the original to pursue midnight showings and come up with their own call backs. That’s a good thing. The fact that they watered down a movie from 1979 whose themes are still culturally relevant in 2016, is not a good thing. In fact it’s an awful thing that left me feeling dirty but not in a good way. In fact, I will be at the Ritz next Friday at midnight to screen the original with a fantastic cast as a way to “shower off” this dirty feeling. Who wants to join me?