Fox’s glitzy Rocky Horror Picture Show, tame and dull

Let’s do the Time Warp again! Then again, let’s not. The much an-ti-cip-at-ed reboot of the 1975 cult film The Rocky Horror Picture Show, despite its abundant glitz and glitter, is rather dull.

Maybe you need warm bodies around you in a theater, maybe audience participation is key, maybe you need to do what we all did during the many midnight viewings of Rocky Horror in college—down a few Harvey Wallbangers, put on your best corset and army boots, and rock out with your friends.

Somehow, sitting alone in your living room with a bowl of popcorn and a Smartwater just doesn’t cut it.

You start to notice things you shouldn’t. Like how wispy and weird the plot is, and how the cast strains to be energetic and engaging and the struggle shows on their faces and performances.

(l) Ryan McCarten as Brad,) and (r) Victoria Justice as Brad. (center) Laverne Cox as Dr. Frank N Furtner in Fox's Rocky Horror Picture Show

(l) Ryan McCarten as Brad,) and (r) Victoria Justice as Brad. (center) Laverne Cox as Dr. Frank N Furtner in Fox’s Rocky Horror Picture Show

And you realize that some performances cannot be duplicated or topped—notably, Tim Curry’s sexy, gender-bending turn as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the “sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania.” By the way, Curry does make an appearance in the TV version, as the criminologist narrator, and despite suffering a stroke in 2012, his delivery and singing are as on-point as ever.

The role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter has been taken over by Laverne Cox, the transgender star of the hit series Orange is the New Black. Cox, dressed in bootilicious lingerie and stiletto heels, vamps and pouts like the best of them and belts out songs with a deep, Eartha Kitt-like purr. But she doesn’t really bring anything new or exciting to the role—except a lot of great lip gloss—and the Vegas-style leg-scissoring choreography just seems to be trying too hard to be sexy.

As you may recall, Rocky Horror centers on a virginal twosome, Brad (Ryan McCartan) and Janet (Victoria Justice), whose car breaks down during a storm and they go off seeking shelter at the Frank-N-Further castle and laboratory. Justice and McCartan make a cute couple and don’t do any harm, but they don’t make much of an impression, either. You long for the acting chops of Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon, the original Brad and Janet.

Adam Lambert appears to be having the redneck, tattooed time of his life as doomed rock and roll biker Eddie, and kills his big number “Hot Patootie, Bless My Soul.”  Equally, Reeve Carney is creepy and scowlingly resentful as Riff Raff, the castle handyman with an agenda.

You truly get a tingle of how good the Richard O’Brien songs are—a dazzling mashup of rock, pop and show tunes—and how subversive the stage show and movie must have been in the 1970s. Yet another misstep in the new Rocky Horror is Ortega trying to give TV audiences an idea of what the experience was like in 1975 and beyond.

You may know that Rocky Horror gave us the audience-participation sensation. Moviegoers wore costumes, brought props (newspapers to put over their heads down the rainstorm scene; throwing toilet paper when a character said “Great Scott!”) and shouting out lines during pauses on the actor’s dialogue, a la Mystery Science Theatre 3000. 

Ortega frames the show as if there is an audience in a movie theater, re-enacting the cult rituals of yesteryear. But without any context, TV viewers must be truly baffled seeing the camera cut away to bizarrely dressed folk throwing things and yelling. Who are those people? , the uninitiated must be thinking. Why won’t they go away and leave us to the cast, who are at least trying to be entertaining, not annoying.

Although William Ivey-Long’s costumes are outlandishly luxe—love the spider web stockings!—you wind up missing the campy, “let’s-put-on-a-show-on-a-shoestring” punk vibe. There isn’t a sense of anarchy or outrageous freedom from repression in this remake; it all somehow seems tame and ho-hum.

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Watch the full version

2stars
Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again 
aired 8 pm Thursday, October 20, 2017 on FOX . Director and choreographer: Kenny Ortega and Tony Testa. Executive Producers: Lou Adler, Gail Berman and Kenny Ortega. Costume Designer: William Ivey-Long . Featuring: Laverne Cox, Staz Nair, Ryan McCartan, Victoria Justice, Adam Lambert, Reeve Carney, Annaleigh Ashford, Christina Milian, Ivy Levan, Ben Vereen, Tim Curry . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

Jayne Blanchard About Jayne Blanchard

Jayne Blanchard has been a critic covering DC theater for the past 10 years, most recently for the Washington Times. Prior to that, she was a theater critic in the Twin Cities and a movie reviewer in the Washington area. She is a proud resident of Baltimore.

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