The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp Again full movie review - No heart, no soul, poor casting
(Spoilers galore follow. But you've come here to read about the show. Why would you be surprised people say things about it?)
Remakes of classics nearly always suffer by comparison to the originals. There might be a time in future decades once the generations of us who attended and performed RHPS dozens of times through our lives pass on when a fresh production might be able to stand on it own merits from the 1975 movie. That time has not come yet. This version is definitely a pale imitation of the original but it does not do well even on its own merits.
I think I will start with the venue: To really be true to the original you cannot broadcast it on network television with its inherent limitations of censorship. RHPS is about sexuality. Not just sexuality, but what used to be alternative sexuality that isn't quite so alternative these days. Even so, there is only so far a network broadcast can go when it comes to sexuality, violence, and language--even language that is not considered vulgar. This version is definitely constrained as a result. The director and producers had to stay conscious of what might and might not fly on network TV throughout. If this had been made for a cable network that has more leeway it might have had more of a chance to be successful. Another viewer noted this version seemed more like a high school production of a famous play and I think this is part of that reason. It's far too sanitized. I think a lot of reviewers are comparing this to the original as a movie when it was more of a stage production. Even at that, it was uninspired.
Much has been made about poor casting choices. Nearly every actor was out of place in their respective role. Then again, I think we have to ask how much of a role the director played in this failure. RHPS is best when it is camp. It should be grab you by the balls, in your face outrageous. If you play things down, you lose the energy of the story. So yes, there are poor casting decisions throughout but director Kenny Ortega did not help his actors much. I also don't think the actors really researched the story to incorporate it into their roles. It seemed like nearly everybody had given cursory reading of the script, a few rehearsals of the music, then off to the filming. Everybody but the Janet character seemed muted.
The biggest failure is Laverne Cox as Frank. I keep reading people say what a great actor Cox is but I see no evidence of it here. Frank N Furter is the character at the center of the production. Tim Curry is one of the greatest scene-chewing actors ever, so Cox will never look good in comparison, but even so, Curry played this role right and Cox did not. Where did Cox go wrong? By not embracing the over-the-top nature of the character. Frank is supposed to be flamboyant, outrageous, take charge. If you are going to play this part you need to own it, you need to take charge, be the star. Cox did none of those things. Cox performed her lines and songs in a workmanlike manner--but that is not what Frank N Furter is. Flamboyance is at Frank's heart. Cox is flamboyant only by being trans in real life but certainly not flamboyant in this character. Honestly, I don't think Cox has the chops for it. Cox was hesitant and played it as an equal partner of an ensemble. If you want to be a successful Frank N Furter you have to go out, take command, grab the cast and audience by the short hairs, and pull them into your show. Oh, and Cox's affected English accent was annoying at best when it did show up. Either play it all with the accent or not at all. But there again is another failure of direction.
Victoria Justice as Janet was the only bright spot for me. Well, that, and Adam Lambert's time being mercifully short. Justice looked like she really researched and understood the role, and was not waiting for direction. She was the only actor who seemed to be comfortable in her role.
Everybody else seemed unsure of what to do and how much to do it. Annaleigh Ashford has gotten a lot of criticism as Columbia but I didn't find her nearly as bad as other reviewers. I would have loved to see her in an R-rated production with a good director. Adam Levine was on screen only to sing Hot Patootie and was quickly, thankfully gone. He may be many things, but able to pull off scruffy biker rocker isn't one of them. Ryan McCartan played a capable Brad. He didn't embrace his role as easily as Victoria Justice embraced Janet, but he didn't embarrass himself. The same can be said for Reeve Carney's Riff Raff. Staz Nair was completely lost as Rocky. I believe the character of Magenta should inspire some feeling of menace from the first moment you see her. Christina Milian just did not do it. She was probably the second-worst casting choice after Cox. She had no presence in the role. I like that they gave Tim Curry a chance to play the criminologist/narrator, but his health problems and inability to speak smoothly prevented him from pulling off a narrator's role in stitching scenes together. I wish him well in his recovery. One role in the play that is not in the movie is the Usherette, played capably here by Ivy Levan.
In summary, the Rocky Horror Picture Show should be primal, in your face, overtly sexual, graphic, garish. It should not be what this came off as: a studied, safe for family hour network TV, sedate musical play based on a campy R-rated musical film.