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With: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers, Ben Hardy, Gwilym Lee, Joseph Mazzello
Written by: Anthony McCarten, based on a story by Peter Morgan, Anthony McCarten
Directed by: Bryan Singer
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, suggestive material, drug content and language
Running Time: 134
Date: 11/02/2018

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Another Biopic Bites the Dust

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Telling the story of Freddie Mercury and the rock band Queen, the new movie Bohemian Rhapsody — which opens Friday in Bay Area theaters — begins and climaxes with the band's legendary 1985 performance at Live Aid.

That performance lasted only about 20 minutes, but it was electrifying. This movie manages to capture that performance's intense, joyous energy in a way that can make your spirit soar.

As Mercury, Rami Malek is mesmerizing, effortlessly embodying whatever magical qualities that made that singer — with his astonishing, peerless vocal range — a star.

Bohemian Rhapsody has a few other great musical moments, notably the creation of the title song in a mid-1970s recording studio, but otherwise, disappointingly, it's an exclusively by-the-numbers music biopic.

After the rise of this genre, around the time that Gary Busey and Sissy Spacek received Oscar nominations for The Buddy Holly Story and Coal Miner's Daughter, respectively, it quickly congealed into a formula, designed for recognizable, exciting centerpiece performances.

The formula includes scenes of the genius toiling in some ordinary existence, clearly destined for more; moments of inspiration and creation of the Great Works; the first exciting moments of fame, followed by corruption, arguing, sex, drugs, money, parties; the music suffers, and then, finally, either redemption or death.

Along the way there are generally bad wigs.

In 2004-5, when Ray and Walk the Line and competed back-to-back for Oscars, the formula was outed when people noticed that these two were, essentially, the same movie. John C. Reilly then spoofed the formula in the hilarious Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.

Since then, movies like I'm Not There and Love & Mercy admirably attempted to do something different, and, as of now, there's no excuse to do the same old thing again. But here it is.

In Bohemian Rhapsody, Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara, must deal with a mouthful of protruding teeth that cause him to mumble, but which also blesses him with extra mouth space for singing.

In addition to the aforementioned plot points, Mercury's conservative parents disapprove of his life choices, he enters into an affectionate relationship with the lovely Mary (Lucy Boynton), and wrestles with homosexuality. He deals with drugs and booze, a toxic entourage, an onset of AIDS, and an ill-advised solo career.

Sadly, even though Bohemian Rhapsody is supposed to be a movie about Queen, the band, and the relationships and partnerships with all the members, it's really only about Mercury. The other members, Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), Brian May (Gwilym Lee), and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello), are merely shown in relation to Mercury, and never spring to life on their own.

The only other high point in the movie is a joke. Mike Myers, in heavy makeup (of course), plays a record executive who finances the band's masterpiece A Night at the Opera, the 1975 album that contains "Bohemian Rhapsody." When he hears the song, without saying any more, he reacts in a way that wittily recalls a certain legendary scene in 1992's Wayne's World.

Interestingly, the movie provides onscreen quotes from the album and song's initial reviews, all bad. Perhaps this is the movie's way of saying that bad reviews aren't as important as the public's adoration, although the two aren't necessarily unconnected.

The credited director Bohemian Rhapsody is Bryan Singer, of The Usual Suspects and several X-Men movies, but he was reportedly fired and replaced by an uncredited Dexter Fletcher. Perhaps this turbulence caused some of the movie's blandness, but perhaps not, given that the formula was already laid down long ago.

A much better movie would have zeroed in on that Live Aid performance, made it front and center, more intimate, and with all four band members playing equal parts. That Bohemian Rhapsody would have been a champion that, truly, could have rocked us.

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