Telling the story of Freddie Mercury and Queen, the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” begins and climaxes with the band’s legendary 1985 performance at Live Aid, which lasted only about 20 minutes, but was electrifying.
The film captures its intense, joyous energy, and Rami Malek is mesmerizing, effortlessly embodying the magical qualities that made Mercury, with his astonishing, peerless vocal range, a star.
Based on a story by Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan, “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 a by-the-numbers music biopic.
After the genre rose with Gary Busey and Sissy Spacek’s Oscar nominations for “The Buddy Holly Story” and “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” respectively, it congealed into a formula, built around recognizable centerpiece performances and stock scenes: of a genius toiling in ordinary existence, destined for more; inspiration and creation of the “great works”; first exciting moments of fame, followed by corruption, arguing, sex, drugs, money and parties, causing the art to suffer; and, finally, either redemption or death.
Along the way there are generally bad wigs.
In 2004 and 2005, when “Ray” and “Walk the Line” competed back-to-back for Oscars, the formula was outed when people noticed that the two were, essentially, the same movie. John C. Reilly then spoofed the formula in the hilarious “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.”
Since then, “I’m Not There” and “Love & Mercy” admirably attempted to do something different. 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 gives him space for singing.
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, the movie’s not really about Queen. The other band members — Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) — are shown only in relation to Mercury, and never spring to life on their own.
One other high point in the movie is a joke. Mike Myers, in heavy makeup, plays a record executive who finances “A Night at the Opera,” the seminal 1975 album with “Bohemian Rhapsody.” When he hears the song, without saying more, he reacts in a way that wittily recalls a legendary scene in 1992’s “Wayne’s World.”
Interestingly, the movie has onscreen quotes from the album and song’s initial reviews — all bad. Maybe it’s a way of saying bad reviews aren’t as important as the public’s adoration, although the two aren’t necessarily unconnected.
“Bohemian Rhapsody’s” director is Bryan Singer, of “The Usual Suspects” and some “X-Men” movies, but he reportedly was fired and replaced by an uncredited Dexter Fletcher. Perhaps this turbulence caused the movie’s blandness, but perhaps not, given the biopic formula was laid down long ago.
A better movie would have zeroed in on the Live Aid performance, and would have all four band members playing equal parts. That “Bohemian Rhapsody” would have been a champion that, truly, could have rocked us.
2 1/2 stars
Starring: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers
Written by: Anthony McCarten
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Running time: 2 hours, 14 minutes