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Malek is best part of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

November 9, 2018

To paraphrase a famous meme: “There’s cool. Then there’s riding-on-the-shoulders-of-Darth-Vader-while-in-a-Flash-Gordon-T-shirt-and-singing-to-a-stadium cool.”

It refers to an iconic shot of the late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury during an encore of an early-‘80s show when the singer leapt atop the famed “Star Wars” character to sing “We Will Rock You.”

It’s that over-the-top bravado that made the performer (and band) such an institution with their anthemic songs led by Mercury’s personality, which is difficult to emulate in a biopic.

For years, the idea has been batted around Hollywood, most recently with Sacha Baron Cohen poised to fill Mercury’s spandex, but he bailed after six years of effort, apparently due to a tiff with the surviving band members (who serve as the film’s producers), who did not appreciate Cohen’s warts-and-all approach to Mercury’s life. 

Enter Rami Malek, star of “Mr. Robot,” who took on the challenge. Despite the distracting false teeth crammed in his mouth to re-create the singer’s overbite, and the vocals which were a mixture of his and Mercury’s original recordings, he nails it to an uncanny degree. 

And Malek is, by far, the best reason to watch “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a film that skips along with sanitized segments of behind-the-scenes drama that lead to thunderous on-stage re-enactments, but barely seems to scratch the surface of the drive, dedication, tumult and excess that marked the meteoric rise of Queen. 

We learn relatively little of Mercury’s Parsi roots (his real name was Farrokh Bulsara), and any offstage tension or drama is merely hinted at before blasting into another onstage crowd-pleaser in which the actors lip-synch and swivel to a jukebox of hits from the band.

The sex and drugs that usually accompany any story of a ’70s-era band receive such a brief cameo that viewers never truly feel the threat of the group’s destruction, and therefore the climactic Wembley Stadium performance at Live Aid never feels as cathartic as it should (despite its painstaking re-creation). 

Sure, it fudges much of the band’s history: the timeline is altered to make the Live Aid show a reunion (even though the band had just returned from a worldwide tour), and Mercury’s HIV diagnosis, here discovered just before the same show, did not come until a couple years later. But the film’s true fault is dragging out inconsequential moments (like a meeting with a fictional record exec played by Mike Myers) while completely omitting career highs (“Flash Gordon, who?” and no mention of the David Bowie collaboration “Under Pressure,” arguably one of their best songs). 

Instead, it merely meanders along, hitting all the dramatic notes of a biopic in an utterly formulaic fashion, which is a fault for any rock doc, but it’s criminal when it’s for a band that was anything but formulaic. 

  • Rob is the head of the English and Communications Department at Delaware Technical Community College, where he teaches film. He is also one of the founders of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society and is lead entertainment writer for Influx Magazine. Email him at filmrob@gmail.com.