Stale and formulaic “Bohemian Rhapsody” fails to engage

Other film critics have been remarkably kind to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the biopic about Freddie Mercury, frontman for Queen, for whom the word legendary would have had to be invented if it didn’t exist already. Why the Bryan Singer film hardly deserves praise:

1. It’s a by-the-book biopic, hitting all the predictable spots, erasing any point of contention or lingering on possible painful or controversial topics. God forbid the film shouldn’t make the PG-13 rating.

2. By-the-book means the meteoric rise of the band, moving “revelations,” firings, Freddie Mercury’s coming-outs (to girlfriend Mary Austin, to his strict Gujarati father,) prima donna demands, wild parties, outrageous or minimal outfits, trashing of stage and homes. Our tear ducts are solicited as often as our outrage, our heart beats to the rhythm of familiar anthems.

3. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is not shooting for historical accuracy but the number of half-truths and pure inventions–which reviews have indeed listed or at least pointed out– are too numerous and not always necessary. The rapport between band members, how they came together, how their years together evolved, what side stories occurred with managers, spouses, recording studio heads, when did they find out Mercury had AIDS (at the time a death sentence,) are often not portrayed correctly. What remains in the final cut often didn’t need to be and spoils the impetus, which is quite a feat in a story about Freddie Mercury, certainly the king (queen?) of energy.

4. Yet the biggest flaw of all is the portrayal of Mercury himself by the waif-like Rami Malek, so unlike the Queen lead singer that no one even bothered hiding his light eyes behind colored lenses, as nothing—and certainly not brown eyes—would bring him close to Mercury’s electrifying vitality, his almost operatic voice, his talents as singer, composer, lyricist, and—I won’t say “mainly” as all of the above are “mainly”—performer. Not Malik’s fault, it’s certainly not for lack of trying, but he doesn’t come close to the outsize personality that would have been needed. Sacha Baron Cohen, at first tapped for the part, would certainly have been more interesting. But truer to Mercury? Truer to Sacha Baron Cohen, more probably.

So, altogether a failure, at times quite watchable though, not enough so. We can take heart in the thought that the Freddie Mercury music and phenomenon will be with us for a long time, offering so much more than what a so-so biopic can maim.

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