Roush Review: New Rocky Horror a Hot (Though Not Always Hot Enough) Mess

Matt Roush
THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW: Let's Do The Time Warp Again: L-R: Ryan McCartan, Laverne Cox and Victoria Justice in THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW: Let's Do The Time Warp Again, premiering Thursday, Oct. 20 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Steve Wilkie/FOX Review
Steve Wilkie/Fox

Sometimes you have to take a pansexual alien mad scientist at its word: “It’s not easy having a good time,” quips The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s immortal camp ringleader Dr. Frank-n-Furter in one of the cult classic’s catchphrases, delivered in Fox’s spotty, sloppy remake by the glamazon Laverne Cox.

That you may ultimately end up agreeing with her isn’t a fault of the players, especially Cox and her Broadway-veteran cohorts: Penny Dreadful’s Reeve Carney (from the Spider-Man musical), who as Riff Raff channels a deadpan Boris Karloff by way of David Bowie, and Masters of Sex’s effervescent Tony-winner Annaleigh Ashford (You Can’t Take It With You, Kinky Boots), whose blue-tongued Columbia is soul sister to Cyndi Lauper. Cox (Orange Is the New Black), perhaps TV’s best-known transgender actress, acquits herself with panache as the drag-tastic Frank-n-Furter, stunningly and playfully sensuous, oozing jubilant attitude though lacking the mischievous menace of Tim Curry’s iconic performance. (Curry appears throughout as the show’s droll narrator.)

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As the ensemble cavorts in the opening half-hour to show-stoppers including “Time Warp” and “Sweet Transvestite,” there’s enough infectious enjoyment to get you past the fact that Rocky Horror on film should probably never be consumed before midnight. And not without consuming at least a few substances that might make the show’s scattershot wit and incoherent sci-fi narrative in the latter reels a bit more palatable.

Fox’s version, wistfully subtitled Let’s Do the Time Warp Again, pays dutiful homage to Rocky Horror’s reputation as a midnight-movie phenomenon. The sensational opening number, “Science Fiction Double Feature,” is delivered with vampy relish by Ivy Levan as a slinky usherette welcoming a motley gang of scuzzy spectators into a movie palace to play along with the antics of Frank-n-Furter and the gang. From time to time, the film cuts back to the theater as the ritual ensues: newspapers over the head during “Over at the Frankenstein Place,” toilet paper hurled at the screen (don’t do this at home), and so forth.

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With puns and gags now familiar to generations of moviegoers, the new Rocky Horror succeeds up to a point as a shameless burlesque, with supporting players giving it their all, including American Idol’s Adam Lambert in the Meat Loaf role of biker Eddie (though seeming more like Greaser Elvis), and Staz Nair a flailing piece of hunkalicious eye candy as glitter-babe Rocky. But once the knowingly bland Brad and Janet of Ryan McCartan and Victoria Justice get settled in for a night of deflowering debauchery that somehow now seems only quaintly kinky, the remake quickly begins to lose steam in a static frenzy of clumsy direction and confused editing. By the end, it’s all a hot—though perhaps not hot enough—mess.

To be fair, I’ve tried to watch the original movie at home, and it’s never as much fun as experiencing it in public with a responsive crowd. (I have fond memories of the 2000 Broadway revival, which captured and amplified the vibe.) While this Rocky Horror surely won’t supplant the first and best Picture Show, it also isn’t likely to dampen our peculiar fondness for the material, which even after 40 years isn’t particularly adaptable for prime time.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again premieres Thursday, Oct. 20, 8/7c, on Fox