A film based on a stage musical, based on a film that was based on a stage musical. That is the labyrinthine level of understanding needed to appreciate this television movie in its full context. Of course, you can just watch it in isolation, but then you’d be missing out on the good stuff. Seriously, go watch the original.
It is also, sadly, not very good. More often than not it comes across as a bad parody of the original film. There are two key issues. The first is that the principle cast hover too close to the original cast’s performance. They never seem to step out of that shadow and make their own mark on the character. On the other hand, Reeve Carney plays his Raff-Raff very close to Richard O’Brien and that works well – perhaps that’s more to do with my enjoyment of O’Brien’s acting and writing than anything else.
Laverne Cox is a good choice for Dr Frank-N-Furter. Placing a transgender actor in the role is a nicely forward thinking piece of casting. Sadly her performance is bordering on a bad impression of Tim Curry and doesn’t really do anything new with it.
Even the appearance of Tim Curry does little to save things. That’s more of an issue with editing than it is his performance, which post-stroke is brief out of necessity. Suffice to say, Kenny Ortega’s direction feels like it’s lacking something. The production is too polished and yet at the same time incredibly cheap.
The story itself is told inside a framing device. Fans of the film will be aware that many audiences dress up and join in with the plot. Sadly that framing device doesn’t get used anywhere near as much as it should, and in reality doesn’t serve much purpose.
The 1975 film had a very specific level of seedy charm, a film with its own, very specific tone. This however feels neutered, a cleaned up, almost family friendly interpretation. That’s possibly the worst bit of the whole experience – it’s too sanitised.
And the songs… well, some of them work, but again most of them do not. They play very close again to the originals but have that musical sheen to them – namely, they are overproduced and over the top. You’d think this would work in the film’s favour, yet somehow it doesn’t.
To summarise, it’s a mess of contradiction and conflicting intentions. It doesn’t know what it wants to achieve, and makes the same mistake as almost every other remake or reinterpretation.
My main question is who this is intended for. Fans of the current stage play? Fans of the original film? A bit of both? Suffice to say, it caters more for the former than the latter, but more as an in joke than anything else. There’s not enough different things here to justify watching it over the original. Plus, if you really want a full appreciation of the stage play, go and watch it. You’ll enjoy it far more than a film of the same thing.
But there is good news – Christopher Biggins is completely AWOL. Small mercies.