(2018, 134 min)
Country: United States
Director: Bryan Singer
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Bohemian Rhapsody is a foot-stomping celebration of Queen, their music and their extraordinary lead singer Freddie Mercury. Freddie defied stereotypes and shattered convention to become one of the most beloved entertainers on the planet. The film traces the meteoric rise of the band through their iconic songs and revolutionary sound. They reach unparalleled success, but in an unexpected turn Freddie, surrounded by darker influences, shuns Queen in pursuit of his solo career. Having suffered greatly without the collaboration of Queen, Freddie manages to reunite with his bandmates just in time for Live Aid. While bravely facing a recent AIDS diagnosis, Freddie leads the band in one of the greatest performances in the history of rock music. Queen cements a legacy that continues to inspire outsiders, dreamers and music lovers to this day.
What a disaster. What a crushing, unmitigated, stunningly inept and astonishingly tone-deaf disaster.
After years of stops and starts, with reports of various high-profile actors, writers, producers and directors attached to and then drifting away from the project, the long-awaited, highly anticipated Freddie Mercury biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” finally arrives in theaters — and it’s difficult to imagine how any alternative-universe version could have possibly been worse than this rubbish.
Where to start? How about with poor Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot,” “Papillon”), the greatly gifted actor who is given zero chance to create a believable, in-depth portrayal of Mercury. The script is deadly. And that’s just the start of our problems. Yes, we know Freddie had that famously pronounced overbite, reportedly caused by four extra teeth in his upper jaw. But the prosthetics worn by Malek, and his unfortunate choice to make it seem as if the false teeth could spring loose at any minute, is a distraction throughout the film. Far more troublesome: Malek and the actors portraying his bandmates lip-synching (quite unconvincingly) to Queen’s biggest hits, in the recording studio and onstage. The attempts to capture the creative process are beyond simplistic and corny.
Making matters worse, director Bryan Singer (who reportedly was replaced somewhere along the way) favors cutaway shots of worshipful fans overwhelmed by Freddie’s genius to the point of tears, and close-ups of Brian May et al., who at times get fed up with Freddie’s ego but can’t resist marveling at his genius. (Every time Singer cuts to Gwilym Lee as Brian May, I was taken out of the movie because Lee bears an uncanny resemblance to Howard Stern in “Private Parts.” I mean, UNCANNY. How did no one see that?)
God bless his trailblazing soul, Freddie Mercury did NOT live a PG-13 life — and yet “Bohemian Rhapsody” takes a very safe and sanitized PG-13 path, kicking off with the obligatory glimpse into a key and relatively late moment in Mercury’s life (the Live Aid charity concert of 1985) before flashing back to That Moment Where It All Began, in the early 1970s in London. In rapid fashion, we see how the young, Zanzibar-born Farrokh Bulsara transforms himself into the free-thinking, aspiring rock star Freddie Mercury, much to the dismay of his traditional parents, in particular his father. (Later moments between Freddie and his dad are so broad and so corny, it’s as if we’re watching a low-rent TV movie.)
The sessions of Freddie walking his talented but traditional hard-rocking bandmates through his visionary ideas, and the moments when his partners step forward with their own unique visions, are only slightly more sophisticated and plausible than the “More Cowbell” skit about Blue Oyster Cult on “Saturday Night Live.” (I kid you not, there’s a moment when Queen bass player John Deacon — played by Joseph Mazzello— starts banging out the intro to “Another One Bites the Dust” just to put a stop to an argument between Freddie and Brian. Episodes of “The Monkees” and “The Partridge Family” were more insightful.)
But wait, it gets worse!
“Bohemian Rhapsody” sinks to an audience-insulting nadir when Mike Myers, sporting pop-up Halloween costume shop-level facial hair, appears as a record executive who hears a demo cut of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and tells the band he wants them to deliver the kind of catchy single that will inspire teenage boys to sing along in their car — and that will NEVER happen with this song. Haha! What a great inside-joke reference to the famous “Bohemian Rhapsody” sequence in “Wayne’s World”! And what a slap in the face to the memory of Freddie Mercury, and any illusions this film would even aspire to be a respectful tribute to the man and his artistry.
Just when I thought “Bohemian Rhapsody” couldn’t be any more shameless and manipulative, we get the extended Live Aid concert finale, with Freddie giving the performance of a lifetime as his ex-girlfriend, his new boyfriend and his nuclear family look on and offer their unqualified support. (Come ON.) Yes, it was a legendary performance — but according to the narrative pushed by this film, despite live appearances in London and America by the likes of U2, Elton John, Sting with Phil Collins, Dire Straits, Patti LaBelle, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, among others, the phones were dead and organizer Bob Geldof was freaking out until Queen took the stage, and only THEN the fundraising effort exploded.
The only redeeming value of “Bohemian Rhapsody” is it’s so bad, there’s plenty of room left for a much better biopic about the one and only Freddie Mercury.
-- Review by Richard Roeper, Chicago Suntimes (https://chicago.suntimes.com)