Rocky Horror Review: Fox's Remake Is Great, Ghoulish Fun, Except For…

grade_BThe recent trend of TV musical events has been squeaky clean so far — The Sound of Music, Grease Live! — but now Fox is getting filthy with a remake of the 1975 cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s lewd, crude, and still shocking forty years later, and Fox’s new version (airing Thursday, 8/7c) is a vibrant adaptation that faithfully captures the spirit of the original. But… there’s also a fatal flaw here that threatens to spoil the whole party.

For the first twenty minutes or so, this new Rocky Horror (subtitled Let’s Do the Time Warp Again) is firing on all cylinders. The story, if you don’t know: Innocent young lovers Brad (Ryan McCartan) and Janet (Victoria Justice) enter a spooky castle on a dark and stormy night and are corrupted by the hedonistic, S&M revelry going on inside. The Gothed-out ghouls they meet include droll butler Riff Raff (Reeve Carney), cackling maid Magenta (Christina Milian) and flamboyant ringleader Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Laverne Cox), who’s created her own Frankenstein’s monster: Rocky Horror (Staz Nair), a bronzed god in golden underwear.

The Rocky Horror Picture ShowDie-hard fans will notice a few updates here and there. In a nod to the film’s famous midnight screenings, a rowdy audience of theatergoers occasionally chimes in on the action with shouts and props. (When Janet covers her head with a newspaper to avoid the rain, they do, too.) But mostly, the remake plays it straight, letting the original’s glam-rock soundtrack and weirdo characters work their strange magic. One definite highlight: the show-stopping number “Time Warp,” which gets an all-out, rock-star makeover with Riff Raff strumming a neon-blue electric guitar.

But then Laverne Cox makes her entrance as Frank-N-Furter… and the film’s momentum is stopped cold. This isn’t meant as a slam on Cox’s acting talents; she’s fantastic on Orange Is the New Black, especially this past season. But she’s glaringly miscast here. She doesn’t stand out from her misfit horde like Frank should. Her singing isn’t up to snuff with the rest of the cast. Her accent varies wildly from “Tim Curry impression” to “Southern belle” to something in between. And more generally, the idea of Dr. Frank-N-Furter loses some of its shock value when the role is made female, as it is here. (Is she even a “Sweet Transvestite” anymore?)

Perhaps it’s unfair to expect anyone to live up to the iconic original performance by Tim Curry, who thankfully appears here as the Narrator to give the remake his blessing. But Adam Lambert makes a cameo as rock-‘n’-roll biker Eddie… and I found myself wishing he had played Frank instead. (Lambert was actually offered the role, but passed.) The unfortunate truth is, Cox’s ill-conceived portrayal drags down what should be a fun, raunchy romp. And it’s all the more frustrating because the rest of this Rocky‘s cast is terrific.

The Rocky Horror Picture ShowIt’s a rock-solid ensemble, top to bottom, but I’ll mention a few standouts. As Riff Raff, Carney (Penny Dreadful) also has huge shoes to fill, but he steals every scene he’s in with deadpan jokes and a killer singing voice. McCartan (Disney’s Liv and Maddie) and Justice (Nickelodeon’s Victorious) both come from kids’ TV, but they confidently step into (very) adult roles here with admirable abandon. And Masters of Sex‘s Annaleigh Ashford has an infectious spark as blue-tongued groupie Columbia. They’re all so good that I wanted to spend more time with them — and less with Frank.

As I’ve said, this remake is devotedly faithful to the original film… maybe too faithful. The film’s plot goes off the rails quite a bit in the final act, devolving into out-of-left-field musical numbers and sci-fi gobbledygook. And the remake unfortunately follows suit, with the high energy of the first hour petering out near the end. I wouldn’t expect director Kenny Ortega and his crew to build a new third act from scratch, but the weak way it all wraps up is still a letdown.

As a Rocky Horror fan, I have to say I enjoyed much of Fox’s remake: The songs are still toe-tappingly catchy; the story is still delightfully subversive. (Like pizza, even a mediocre Rocky Horror is still pretty good.) But the Cox casting was an epic miscalculation that the production can’t fully recover from. Which is a shame, because this really could’ve been a home run — a new Halloween classic, even. As is, it’s simply a missed opportunity.

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: Fox’s Rocky Horror is mostly an energetic Halloween treat… but Laverne Cox’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter hits a sour note.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. readenreply says:

    Brad no longer has a same sex encounter but simply cheats on Janet with “Frank” who is now female?

    Ironic that casting a trans woman leads to straight washing a play with a lot of queer subtext.

  2. Chuck says:

    I think you’re generous with giving the film a good 20 minutes. Really the best part is the opening theme with the Usherette. The rest is too slavish to the original to please the fans, and despite argument from the RHPS faithful, I fully agree that casting Cox was a stunt that make absolutely zero sense (and yes, like Columbia says, “I’ve seen it,” so I can judge). I have to disagree on Annaleigh Ashford. Columbia is not a disaffected teen, and that’s how she recites all of her lines. Carney basically does a Richard O’Brien impersonation in a Party City wig, there are too many shot-for-shot moments from the original and many questionable choices from Ortega (why does he insist on showing that idiotic shot of Adam Lambert as dead Eddie THREE TIMES?!). I’m not even sure Staz Nair was singing because his lip sync was pretty off during his first number. Perhaps as a fan I’m just too close to the material to enjoy any remake of the film (although the London stage version shown on BBC America was a delight). RHPS virgins may enjoy it, but it lack that “spaaaaahk” of the original. You’d do better to just seek out the classic.

    • Frank (N Furter) says:

      Quite eloquently put, and spot on might I add. Camping up something that is already camp is doing it “in a Party City wig”. (That was brilliant by the way) It was watered down for TV, with the themes as milquetoast as the acting and poor lip synching was.

    • punkfunk says:

      I’m curious where you got to see it before Thursday?

    • Temperance says:

      I was hoping the US show would be a version of the London 40th anniversary show – which was terrific. I would have preferred Carney as Frank…

  3. Walkie says:

    Victoria Justice in her underwear is enough to get me to watch.

  4. Wait… So you are saying that a transgender person cannot play a transvestite? What next? Lin Manuel shouldn’t be Hamilton? The whole thing i supposed to be campy. And Transvestite was the word used back in the day, but I am sure if RHS was written today, he would be consider a transgender person. I think you are making too much out of this whole thing. I have not seen it (and plan on savoring every moment of it) but I think it is not supposed to be life changing but high camp.

    • LM says:

      “So you are saying that a transgender person cannot play a transvestite?” She can be, but Cox is now a woman, so it’s now casting a female to play a male who dresses as a female. Do you see the important distinction? And, sorry to break it to you, but your Lin Manuel reference is a stupid one. Are both people men?

    • LaDonna says:

      Webster defines transvestite as “a person, typically a man, who derives pleasure from dressing in clothes appropriate to the opposite sex.” Transexual, on the other hand is defined by Webster as “a person who emotionally and psychologically feels that they belong to the opposite sex.” Cox is clearly the latter while Curry played the former. The part is written as a transvestite, NOT a transexual. They really are two completely different things.

    • J.B. says:

      It’s important to learn what a transvestite IS before making such an ignoramus comment. Transvestite does not = Transgender and vice versa. If you understood that you would see how the role looses its subversiveness. The film & musical’s subversiveness is what made/makes TRHPS so popular. Loose any of it and what you end up with is a neutered production.

      • dman6015 says:


      • ThePandaSays says:

        Loose once and I think it’s a typo, twice and I question anything else you write. Lose is very different from loose. Are we letting loose the subversiveness?
        And Ignoramus, a noun, should be capitalized and is not convertible to an adjective. So an ignorant comment could be made or the person could be an Ignoramus, not the other way around. If you are going to try and school someone on the proper use of words, perhaps you should take more care to use your words correctly.

    • ScottJ says:

      Cox’ s gender has nothing to do with anything. The character is still the same as it always was

  5. LM says:

    With all respect to the intentions of the casting, Frank-N-Furter is a transvestite, not a transsexual (i.e. a man dressing as a woman, not a man who became a woman). Casting Laverne Cox confuses that, since she, dressing as a woman is appropriate for her (and does she want younger audiences to see her as a man, who’s dressing in women’s clothing?).

    The move should’ve been to cast Cox as Magenta or Columbia. After all, they are from transsexual Transylvania — and that’s who Cox is.

  6. Collette says:

    I’m really only interested in seeing Adam Lambert as Eddie, but Riff Raff is cuter this time around.

  7. How does Lavern Cox differ from Tim Curry outside of the casting of a real Trans person this time and the terminology in the script being dated because we have created more respectful PC terms for what “She” is since the original.

    • LaDonna says:

      This was answered in a previous comment, but look up the definitions of transexual vs. transvestite. Cox is the former while Curry played the latter.

      • the previous question hadn’t been answered when I posted.

        • LaDonna says:

          OK, but the point is that a transexual and a transvestite are two VERY different things. The part was written as a transvestite which Cox clearly is not.

          • see my response to JB.

          • Rocky says:

            You are right, they are different, but you should also be aware that “Transvestite” is an antiquated term and is no longer considered acceptable. Here is how you will find it defined on most LBGTQ resource sites: “Transvestite – An outdated term for a cross-dresser that is considered derogatory.” Laverne Cox herself spoke to this:

          • Rocky says:

            Cox does not need to be an actual cross-dresser to play the role. Tim Curry was also not an actual cross-dresser. They are both actors playing a character. Do you see how your argument doesn’t stand up?

          • LaDonna says:

            OK, Rocky, I get your point, but what made the role so iconic is the fact that Tim Curry identifies as male and was playing the part of someone who identified as male but was wearing women’s clothes. That’s where Cox is very different. She may have been born a male, but she (by the very pronouns she prefers) identifies as female. It just doesn’t play up the dichotomy that makes the role so unique.

          • Terry Zarlingo says:

            The original Rocky Horror picture show was a flop, even though they had placed two famous rockstars from that era (Tim Curry, Meatloaf). It was later that someone came up with the brilliant idea of turning into the “audience participation” movie that made it the hit that we could have fun at and enjoy. There were MANY changes not just a few, so why so much consentration on transvestite to transgender! The new version was meant to entertain us in a new age. I loved Miss Cox in this role! Eddie’s uncle (Dr. Scott) wasn’t Afro-American either! If you prefer the original then watch that particular one. The new version was meant to entertain, and not be the same travesty as the original first was. “The Time Warp Dance” was redone in a way that majority of us could never do. That was most of the fun back in the day of everyone getting out of their seats and doing “The Time Warp Dance.” Yet I still enjoyed the new version of the dance.

    • J.B. says:

      This has nothing to do with being PC or “respectful”. The character is a transvestite NOT a transgender person. They are. completely different.

      • So Transvestite = Cross-dresser. I didn’t know the distinction. It’s hard to keep track of all the terminology these days. I thought Transgender was just a more modern and appropriate term, like when Handicapped changed to Handy-capable. The more you know.

        • Nichole says:

          I think you’re all missing the point the reviewer is making, that it is the person playing the part that is not good in the part, not because of their gender or sexual orientation, but because they just didn’t play the part well, or sing that well.

          • LaDonna says:

            I certainly have no problem with Cox as an actress. She’s amazing in Orange is the New Black, and quite frankly, I envy her red carpet appearances on a regular basis. I just think the part itself loses something with her playing it. It’s the dichotomy that makes the role so iconic. Tim Curry is obviously a man who identifies male and is playing the role that way as a man wearing women’s clothes. Cox, although born male, does not identify male. That’s where I think the role loses its effectiveness with her playing it.

        • Larc says:

          Transvestite literally means cross-dresser. Trans is a prefix meaning across. Vesture is clothing. Vestite would indicate a wearer of clothing.

        • Anne says:

          The concepts have modernized. I figure if Cox felt it was appropriate for her to play the role, then it’s fine. She’s the best judge for it.
          Oh and it’s just ‘disability’ nowadays not handicapped or handycapable. :)

  8. TheloNaGrapso says:

    Mediocre pizza is pretty bad actually.

  9. Demented Daisy says:

    Ah, if only they had gotten Sharon Needles. Could have been so good.

  10. dman6015 says:

    If Fox were smart (which they generally aren’t), they would push back the show to next Thursday, take someone in the show (too late to bring in a newbie), recast Frank, and rehearse like crazy.

    Why would you continue with someone in such an important role in the production if it’s clearly evident that it’s not working?

  11. Marco Piazzo says:

    Well, this isn’t the first time FOX made such a major misstep with RHPS; in the Glee tribute, among other stupid things, they gave the TRANSVESTITE role to a GIRL. I think it was even worse in this version, because by having a TransGENDER Woman as Frank, it sounds like the producers think Transvestite and Transsexual are the same, which is so, so wrong.

  12. Bun Ho says:

    Adam Lambert as a “biker”..oh COME now. This was “Stunt casting” at its WORST. Lambert cannot act, and falls far short of the vocal ability needed for this role.

  13. Omarr says:

    The Glee Rocky Horror Cast >>>>>>>> this one

  14. Belle says:

    Sadly a friend who caught a preview also said the same…it’s too bad because it has potential, just a big miss on the casting of Frank :(

  15. hautecc says:

    You all realize that Laverne…was born a man right?

  16. kirads09 says:

    Giving the whole thing a pass as I KNOW in my heart nothing could ever hold a candle to the original Curry’s blessing or not. In fact, I am sure a cable station will be running the original (they usually do).

  17. DL says:

    As someone who once played Dr. F’n’F in a community production, this news makes me sad. I was once the fence as to whether I’d watch, leaning towards not sadly. =/

  18. rocky-o says:

    i think what fox did was simply put a woman in women’s underwear, which is acceptable, even down to the woman on woman encounter, but to have a man in underwear and fishnets like curry originally wore, singing about being a transvestite and then have a male on male encounter…they perhaps thought it would still be a little too much for their sensitive tastebuds to swallow…

    after all, they felt they had to change the lyrics for their ‘grease’ production as well, so what’s the point of watching these shows…to simply get a pathetic ‘tv friendly’ version…just grow up, watch the originals, and ignore these ridiculous remakes…

    • Erik says:

      If they thought the play/movie was “too much” then maybe they shouldn’t have chosen rocky horror to do.

    • The Curse of the 8pm Family Hour strikes again! It was edgy as a theatrical release, but you certainly couldn’t expect that level for a network TV special. Especially one that started at 8pm. Now if it was on cable……

  19. Jason Shat says:

    PAINFUL. :50 minutes in and we all are passing around the vomit bags. The cast is, I’m sorry to say, terrible. (actor playing brad is the exception however) but the rest — forgetaboutit especially Victoria Justice – where’d they get her with her one dimensional acting job? OMG. Awful. And Cox too….TERRIBLE And we love her! Or is it the direction? Or lack of? The director clearly doesn’t have a clue as to what made the original such a cult favorite. This is a sad production that no amount of expensive shoes and costumes could ever save or make great.

  20. It’s not that Cox is bad,but she’s in another musical. Playing it too straight, no pun intended . Not threatening enough, no undercurrent of danger. Not at all creepy.

  21. I thought it was pretty good. The start was the best, as I remember it. Laverne Cox was OK, the character was fine, but the singing wasn’t her strong suit. That was the big weakness.

  22. Jeff gibbs says:

    Really?did we watch the same movie?I’ve yet to talk to anybody who liked the remake…it was terrible. The actors who played riff Raff n frank n furter were wrongly cast…you could barely hear the guitars in the music…it was disgusting.. Who ever handled this project oughta be FIRED!!!

  23. Jeff gibbs says:

    Really?.did we watch the same movies? It was terrible. The actors who played riff Raff n frank n furter were wrongly could barely hear the guitar…only Magneta n Janet were any good. Whoever handled this project should be Fired!!!

  24. It was a disaster. If you are like 12 and brain dead, then I can understand how you could possibly like it.

  25. Terry Zarlingo says:

    My personal belief is that you couldn’t be more wrong! There will never be anyone as great as Tim Curry as Frank-N-Furter, I grew up with this film in the 80’s and would hunt down midnight showings. But as you stated there was a new twist on the “Time Warp Dance,” giving it a more modern style. I think this is what Laverne Cox did for the role. We live in a more gender free world (people can finally express who they are inside instead of what society marks them to be due to physical appearance). Who better to play the role of Frank-N-Furter than a real transvestite. The film originally was never meant what it had became, originally it was a flop, later it was turned into the “audience participation” show that so many enjoyed. The new version was very entertaining without doing the audience participation, and I loved Miss Cox in this role! The opening was completely changed but I really liked what they did with it. Did anyone else notice the cameo of Meatleaf? Or even the two jokes made about him; “(Audience: “Two out of three ain’t bad,” or during the birthday dinner, Magenta, “I hope it isn’t meatloaf again.”The real tradegy was the remaking of “Grease!” I was ready to be equally disappointed in the remake of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” but I enjoyed it so much I watched it twice.

  26. CRPR says:

    The thing that rankled most for me was the casting of Cox as Frank. Instantly I found the weird accent grating, but there was also not much, if any, of the sense of menacing unhinged-ness that Curry brought to the role. The murder of Eddie was so anti-climactic and didn’t feel purposeful at all. I think it’s a combination of directing and acting missing the mark, but it was a bummer either way. Justice seemed to be doing a spot-on Sarandon in terms of vocal style, which is neither here nor there, I guess–just something I noticed. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it. Some of the updated arrangements I liked, but “Hot Patootie” just wasn’t the same. :/