“Bohemian Rhapsody” is a biopic about Freddie Mercury that feels exactly like scrolling through the frontman’s Wikipedia page. Rami Malek plays the man/myth/legend and the film is totally reliant on just how convincingly the actor resembles the singer — the Wranglers sit just right, a dental prosthesis mimics Mercury’s extra incisors and any lack of singing range is masked by flawless dubbing.
To reference a music biopic that “Bohemian Rhapsody” apes considerably, “Walk the Line,” Joaquin Phoenix didn’t look so much like Johnny Cash, but he felt like him. Any mercurial edge to Freddie, however, is glossed over. Just as the Cash movie started in media res at Folsom Prison, Freddie’s story begins at his apex — the Live Aid performance — before rolling back to when Queen weren’t even Queen, but Smile.
There are unremarkable roles for the non-Freddie members of the band — guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee), drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), and bass guitarist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello), who at least get to don more attractive wigs as the film wears on. The same cannot be said for the tragic hair of the band’s support staff: manager John Reid (Aidan Gillen), lawyer Jim Beach (Tom Hollander) and EMI label honcho Ray Foster (Mike Myers).
As they head to the country to record “A Night at the Opera,” the band says completely believable things, such as, “We’ll cross boundaries!” Mercury, like every writer worth his salt, exclaims while penning a lyric, “That’s really good!” They emerge, of course, with the song that gives the film its name.
One point of frustration is that Queen have no apparent connections to other (better) musicians. We hear the familiar bass line of “Under Pressure” but we never see David Bowie. Instead we get the background on the composition of “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions,” tunes that are now relevant only to fans in baseball stadiums stomping on cement after a late inning comeback. And, with the exception of the enjoyable Live Aid culmination, little attention is paid to Queen as a touring band — not one complete song is performed.
Although he swans while remarking, “Don’t be so dramatic, darling,” and bangs out a falsetto “Happy Birthday to Me” on the piano, Mercury purports to be somewhat confused as to his sexual orientation in the early part of the film. His girlfriend Mary (Lucy Boynton) is left to explain to us, “Freddie, you’re gay.”
Post-“Bohemian,” Freddie falls under the watchful mustache of Paul Prenter (Allen Leech) his lead supplier of drugs and young men. They throw parties — shot in cheesy fish eye lens — with people walking around lamenting, “Freddie, you’re burning the candle on both ends!”
It’s hard to precisely assign blame for the failings of the movie. Director Bryan Singer was famously fired part way through filming (to clarify an important point, he wasn’t fired because he’s a bad director; he was fired because he’s a jerk) but his replacement Dexter Fletcher had no greater appetite to explore Mercury’s true wildness.
Just when you think you’ll finally see Freddie hook up with a man, you feel screenwriter Anthony McCarten jumping down to the next section of Wiki bio. The film is shockingly sexless — from what’s onscreen, you can only assume Freddie contracted HIV walking through a nightclub in Berlin in the mid ‘80s. This sanitized Mercury only smokes cigarettes and has the occasional glass of wine. Sure, there might be a bit of leftover white powder on a table, but who knows how it got there?
‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is showing at the Sonoma 9 Cinemas. Rated PG-13. Running time 2:15. Visit www.cinemawest.com.