TV Review: The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp Again!

PLOT: A boring, buttoned-up couple seeking shelter from a massive rainstorm are welcomed into the castle of a singing and dancing transsexual scientist intent on creating a strapping body-builder.

REVIEW: A year after what would have made far more sense as a 40 year anniversary (1975-2015), for reasons unclear if not unjustified, Fox as decided to hatch a televisual makeover the cult-classic horror musical, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. Sure, the studio already owned the rights, and given the success of "The Grease Live" redo and the popularity of flagship programs like Glee and High School Musical, one can suppose the line of thinking makes sense. But whereas the original atoned for its lack of resources with a raw ingenuity and unbridled verve, this glossily overproduced $20 million production does little to nothing to compensate for what is essentially a pandering, by-the-numbers, song-by-song echo of the original. For a movie likely meant to empower the trans-movement of the last few years, LET'S DO THE TIME WARP is neither transgressive nor transcendent enough to make any sort of lasting impression. In fact, the only thing scarifying here is that, compared to the perversion of the original, it's quite neutered!

For those not in tune with the story beats of the 1975 version, LET'S DO THE TIME WARP pretty much follows in lockstep. After an opening number from a movie theater usherette (Ivy Levan) that sets the stage - one that awkwardly tries to recreate a raucous cult-movie-going crowd that sings along - we meet our impeccably handsome couple, Brad (Ryan McCartan) and Janet (Victoria Justice). They lament their car breaking down in the rain, and soon they happen upon a decrepit mansion in seek of refuge. More familiar characters come into play, the handyman Riff Raff (Reeve Carney), Magenta the maid (Christina Milian), the groupie Columbia (Annaleigh Ashford), The Butler (Jayne Eastwood) and of course, the role made infamous by Tim Curry, the transgendered Dr. Frank Furter (Laverne Cox). Oh, and speaking of Curry, he's somehow agreed to narrate this production, doing so with a doddering lilt that makes you wonder if he's even sure where he is, much less what he's doing.

Once welcomed in, Brad and Janet are slowly seduced by the mad scientist, who here is intent patching together The Creation, an oily beau-hunk of a body-builder played by a dude named Staz Nair. Seriously. This guy looks like a Dolph Lundgren cross between He-Man and Drago, the gold-lame boxer shorts on full display. In the Meatloaf role of Eddie, we get Adam Lambert as a tattooed, mutton-chopped rocker, as well as Ben Vereen (wow) to play the rival mad-scientist Dr. Everett Scott, originated by Jonathan Adams. The requisite playlist is hit, one by one, with varying results of entertainment value and without even a modicum of the lewd crudity and exorbitant decadence of the original. Some songs are mildly catchy, most are wildly kitschy, but outside of Victoria Justice parading around in a bra and miniskirt, never adequately land the high-level of sexiness and manic energy of Susan Sarandon and company. Then again, few can.

The real indictment of this show is the question of who will it possibly appeal to? If you're a fan of the 1975 classic, this won't so much as induce celebration as it will a dismissive eye-roll of a what's clearly an ersatz update, and those not familiar with the original would simply do wise to watch the progenitor instead. The song and dance numbers aren't particularly enthralling, and only modified a bit to tailor the 2016 sound-sensibilities, but never so much that you can't recognize the tunes. I'll be real, there were a few jams I dug on a bit, if only in a sort of guilty pleasure sort of fashion, not necessarily out of nostalgia. Perhaps if this were a live production like Grease was, there'd be more inherent excitment to it all. The other dubious distinction about this production is the casting. Not to cast serious aspersions on Laverne Cox, but she seems far more suited here to be a toothpaste model than a magnetic Tim Curry equal. She simply cannot command the stage in a way needed, instead comes across way too campy, way too hysterical and histrionic for her own good. In fact, I fail to see how casting a transgendered actor as a perhaps the most iconic film transvestite is at all progressive. Shouldn't trans-actors get a chance to play non-trans roles, and vice versa? Wouldn't that be more evolved, a la Curry doing it in 1975?

Don't take it from me however. Original ROCKY HORROR songwriter Richard O'Brien had this to say about the casting: "I think that it is a project that is misconceived and (sadly for the players) badly cast. The producer and director seem to have missed the point entirely. I will say no more as I may be tempted to say too much." I tend to agree with O'Brien here, even if this aspect of the film is only marginally dampening. For me, the real issue is how this primetime Fox one-off lacks the overt decadence and lust-filled perversion of the original. It's simply too safe and sound to stir the kind of raucous reaction of the '75 version. Worse, it isn't remotely scary. Not to say the original was petrifying or anything, but at least it attempted a serious sense of the macabre. Here it's all so overproduced, needlessly and profligately so, all amounting to little more than a 2-part Halloween episode of Glee. If that's your bag, or you're a Victoria Justice fan, by all means dig in. If you're staunch Arrow in the Header, you probably won't find too much to enjoy here.

Extra Tidbit: Let's Do The Time Warp Again airs on Fox this Thursday at 8:00 PM.
Source: AITH



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