WHAT IT’S ABOUT The remake of the 1975 cult classic about a “sweet transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania” — or, specifically, from outer space — who seduces, then changes presumably forever sweet, wholesome Brad and Janet. This cast of characters includes: Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Laverne Cox); her helper, Riff-Raff (Reeve Carney); Janet Weiss (Victoria Justice); her betrothed, Brad Majors (Ryan McCartan); Frank-n-furter’s creation, Rocky Horror (Staz Nair); Furter groupie Columbia (Annaleigh Ashford); Eddie the rock-and-roll delivery guy (Adam Lambert), the maid, Magenta (Christina Milian) and Dr. Everett Scott (Ben Vereen).
Tim Curry — Frank-N-Furter of the original (and who since a stroke in 2013 uses a wheelchair) — is the narrator, aka The Criminologist.
MY SAY Even though posterity has decided otherwise, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” was not made for posterity. Instead, “RHPS” was made to make money by exploiting a moment (that glam rock one) and a London stage success, “The Rocky Horror Show.” As far as most movie critics at the time were concerned, Jim Sharman’s direction was shamtastic — full of continuity errors, incoherent performances and perversely strange moments. Box office dribbled in and — in a gesture of either defeat or defiance — distributor 20th Century Fox opted for some midnight showings at the Waverly Theatre (now the IFC Center) in the West Village. (Uniondale’s Mini Cinema was to be the favored LI venue for many years). The rest is cultural history.
“RHPS” clearly touched on something much deeper than a mere movie, bad or otherwise, could touch upon. It was an experience that celebrated — to lift a mouthful from treatises that were written about it — “non-normative gender expression” and audience participation. It was as sui generis, or culturally unique unto itself, a movie as there ever was.
You simply don’t reboot “sui generis.” Except Fox has, and no one should be surprised at the results: Dutiful, reverent, energetic, expertly crafted and yet utterly incapable of escaping the long shadow of its exotic midnight forbear. The capacity to entertain is still here. The capacity to shock is not. Even as good as she is, Cox’s immaculate — and historic —performance feels tame compared with Curry’s subversive screen one. She’s all glam, no camp. She’s almost made Frank-N-Furter respectable.
In part, the problem is one of familiarity. There are simply too many instances from the movie that cannot be unseen — arguably all of them. In the film, for example, luckless Eddie (Meat Loaf) is literally disemboweled. He’s in one piece here. When Curry (in the film) utters that timeless line — “come on up to the lab and see what’s on the slab” — you laugh and recoil. Cox makes it sound like an invitation to tea.
Cox is best where she needs to be best — the performances of “Fanfare / Don’t Dream It” and “Wild Untamed Thing” — but what’s lost in those translations is the humor. Curry’s “Wild Untamed Thing” was both showstopper and high comedy when wheelchair-bound Dr. Scott (Jonathan Adams) comes out kicking. There’s no laughline in this rendition.
Is it fair to compare the Fox TV movie with the cult movie, as opposed to, say, the countless stage productions? Absolutely — because Fox wants you to. Not only is the bittersweet presence of Curry a constant reminder, but this version has dispensed with the iconic Red Lips open for a performance of “Science Fiction Double Feature” by Ivy Levan. There’s a reason for that — she plays an usher to some movie patrons who, in homage to millions of fans over the years, will perform some of the classic “callbacks” during the telecast.
Nice idea, but I’ll take the Red Lips any day — and suspect “RHPS” purists will, too. (Two pair of disembodied lips will sing “SFDF” during the closing credits.)
BOTTOM LINE Cox is good, while the production is energetic and dutiful — as opposed to scandalous or fun.