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"Rocky Horror Picture Show" has something of a strange history. Initially a broadway show, RHPS was adapted into a feature Film that initially received mixed reviews before audience participation at showings turned the movie into a cult classic. The new movie version, which premiered just last night on Fox, seems acutely aware of this legacy. Unfortunately, it’s attempts to synthesize it into its narrative are half baked, and the show is a mixed bag of uninspired creative choices saved by a singular performance.

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Synopsis

The film follows Janet (Victoria Justice) and Brad (Ryan McCarten), a recently engaged couple. When their car breaks down during a thunderstorm, they go to a large mansion for in the hopes of making a phone call. But when they enter the mansion, they are introduced to the strange Dr. Frankenfurter (Laverne Cox), and are swept into her bizarre world of musical numbers and science experiments.

Analysis

From the start, it’s clear that RHPS:LDTWA is aware of it’s history. The show seems to be trying to mix both the movie version and the play with mixed results.

The story itself plays more like a stage show with a camera running, though with one change; there’s a movie theater audience watching with us while it happens. It’s an interesting choice in theory, but in practice, the audience doesn’t really do anything beyond a few asides. And it’s a shame too, because RHPS is filled with moments of overt voyeurism such as when Columbia and Magenta watch Janet and Rocky sleep together. The show could have used its built-in audience to capitalize on these moments, but instead they’re used for a couple gags that are more distracting than funny.

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Not helping matters is weirdly bland acting. Justice and McCarten are fine as Janet and Brad, though it’s hard to tell if the blunt line-reads is a creative choice or stilted acting. The rest, like Reeve Carney as Riff Raff and Annaleigh Ashford as Columbia, are okay, but considering that they each get their own subplot, they never seems to stand out as much as they should. Tim Curry is back in the show again, now in the role of the narrator. You’d think the original Frankfurter would add some energy to the performance, but no; Curry seems to aim for disinterested and studious, but ends up catatonic.

It’s hard to tell whether any of the mediocre acting is the result of the actors or the direction. Director Kenny Ortega seems to really be going for as much camp as possible, which is fair considering the story, but seems to have gone a bit too far. It’s as if everyone trying to make their characters so one-note that they don’t have any notes at all, and they all end up strangely muted as a result.

But if there is one saving grace, it’s Laverne Cox as a Dr. Frankenfurter. In addition to being absolutely gorgeous in every outfit she’s in, Laverne brings a huge amount of fun and energy to all her scenes.

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Cox’s Frankenfurter is much less predatory than other versions; while, for instance, Tim Curry’s doctor tries to make the moves on Brad and Janet right away, Cox’s iteration dances around them, almost completely unconcerned by their presence. It is, in my estimation, a welcomed changed. While the character is slightly flatter, losing some of the malicious edge to her hijinks, Cox’s version manages to dull the “Predatory Trans Character” trope that other versions of the show ( and a lot of other movies and shows) have used. This is a trans character who were meant to just have fun with rather than be unnerved by, and it’s nice to see that in a more mainstream movie.

Conclusion

Cox’s performance actually makes it hard for me to decide whether or not to recommend the show. Cox really is wonderful in it, and she is in the movie a whole bunch, so the movie is not a complete chore to sit through. It is a shame about the otherwise bland and mishandled creative choices around her, though. It is still worth a watch, but for most,  it's unlikely to merit a repeat viewing.