For a re­view of “Bo­hemian Rhap­sody,”

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We can stip­u­late a few things about “Bo­hemian Rhap- sody.” We can stip­u­late that it’s not a great movie. We can stip­u­late that, in many ways, it’s not even a very good movie. As a trite, of­ten laugh­ably cliched biopic of Queen front­man Fred­die Mer­cury, an en­ter­prise that should have been as dar­ing and flam­boy­antly the­atri­cal as its sub­ject winds up be­ing bowd­ler­ized, Wiki-fied, dis­tort­ingly com­pressed and un­for­giv­ably con­ven­tional. And yet.

We can also stip­u­late that, de­spite the myr­iad short­com­ings of its parts, the sum of “Bo­hemian Rhap­sody” winds up be­ing gid­dily en­ter­tain­ing, first as an ex­er­cise in so-bad-it’s-funny kitsch, and ul­ti­mately as some­thing far more mean­ing­ful and thrilling. Ev­ery now and then, a film comes along that de­fies the de­mands of taste, for­mal so­phis­ti­ca­tion, even artis­tic hon­esty to suc­ceed sim­ply on the level of pure, in­ex­pli­ca­ble plea­sure. “Bo­hemian Rhap­sody” is just that cine­matic uni­corn: the bad movie that works, even when it shouldn’t.

As a whirligig tour through Mer­cury’s rise and tragic end (he died from AIDS-re­lated pneu­mo­nia in 1991), “Bo­hemian Rhap­sody” hits all the ex­pected notes: We meet young Far­rokh Bul­sara (Rami Malek), the son of im­mi­grants from Zanz­ibar, when he’s work­ing as a bag­gage han­dler at Heathrow Air­port, writ­ing songs on the fly and mak­ing pil­grim­ages to a lo­cal club to hear his fa­vorite band, Smile. When that group’s lead singer quits, Bul­sara holds his own im­promptu au­di­tion in the park­ing lot, wow­ing gui­tarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drum­mer Roger Tay­lor (Ben Hardy) with his soar­ing range and in­stant har­mo­niz­abil­ity. Not since Ally sang “Shal­low” for Jack­son Maine out­side Su­per A Foods have the mu­si­cal gods smiled so for­tu­itously.

What fol­lows is the stuff of fa­mil­iar his­tory: Re­named Queen at the sug­ges­tion of Bul­sara (who al­ready called him­self Fred­die and went on to adopt the stage name Mer­cury), the band be­comes hugely pop­u­lar through­out the 1970s and 1980s, cre­at­ing pop an­thems and an ex­trav­a­gant stage show that de­fies rock’s grit­tily ma­cho self-im­age and proves im­prob­a­bly gal­va­niz­ing.

Mean­while, Fred­die pro­poses to the love of his life, Mary Austin (Lucy Boyn­ton), even though deep in both their hearts, they know that he’s gay. As Fred­die’s fame grows, so do his con­flicts: with his own sex­ual iden­tity, with an un­scrupu­lous man­ager, with iso­la­tion and drugs and, fi­nally, with the band that made him a star.

Part of what makes the plot of “Bo­hemian Rhap­sody” so dreary is that it doesn’t il­lu­mi­nate any­thing be­yond what the au­di­ence prob­a­bly al­ready knows (or, just as likely, knows more about). Schematic and shal­low, it flits from one hoary set piece to the next with all of the in­sight, sur­prise and psy­cho­log­i­cal depth of a san­i­tized “Be­hind the Mu­sic” episode or unironic re­make of “Walk Hard.”

And yet.

If any­one doubted that cinema is an ac­tor’s medium, “Bo­hemian Rhap­sody” ar­rives as in­dis­putable proof. Even be­hind a set of dis­tract­ing pros­thetic teeth sim­u­lat­ing Fred­die’s fa­mous over­bite, Malek de­liv­ers a com­mit­ted, thor­oughly in­hab­ited per­for­mance, which winds up tran­scend­ing the re­gret­tably thin ma­te­rial at hand. Con­sid­er­ably shorter than his char­ac­ter, Malek nonethe­less mas­ters the mus­cu­lar swag­ger and cap­ti­vat­ing stage pres­ence of a man who, when he sings in front of his first big crowd, an­nounces that he’s fi­nally dis­cov­ered his life’s call­ing. Even at his most fey and alien-look­ing, Malek makes that state­ment ut­terly cred­i­ble.

Hap­pily — and cru­cially — the sup­port­ing roles in “Bo­hemian Rhap­sody” are just as well-judged, As an end-cred­its mon­tage sug­gests, the ac­tors play­ing May, Tay­lor and bassist John Dea­con (Joseph Mazzello) look eerily like their real-life ana­logues. The best parts of “Bo­hemian Rhap­sody” have less to do with Fred­die’s tribu­la­tions than the mys­te­ri­ous alchemy of a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween four self­de­scribed mis­fits that on pa­per never would have worked, but yielded un­canny and en­dur­ing re­sults.

“Bo­hemian Rhap­sody” ends with one of the most mem­o­rable movie fi­nales in re­cent mem­ory, when the film­mak­ers restage, al­most note for note, Queen’s ap­pear­ance at Live Aid in 1985, a per­for­mance that went down in his­tory as per­haps the finest live set ever, and one that con­vinced those who had dis­missed Queen as a camp event of the group’s tech­ni­cal prow­ess and elec­tri­fy­ing show­man­ship. It’s a bravura pas­sage, in which Malek’s phys­i­cal pres­ence fuses seam­lessly with Fred­die’s slightly ragged voice. As he gains strength, so does the scene and, by ex­ten­sion, the movie, which take on weight and emo­tion and an in­escapable, in­fec­tious joy.

“Bo­hemian Rhap­sody” might have started out as an ode to the su­per­nat­u­ral tal­ent of one man. It ends as a tes­ta­ment to a band, and sim­ply how good they made their fans feel.

“Bo­hemian Rhap­sody,” a Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury Fox re­lease, is rated PG-13 for ma­ture the­matic el­e­ments, sug­ges­tive ma­te­rial, drug use and strong lan­guage. Run­ning time: 13 min­utes. ★★½

“The Nutcracker”

In its broad­est pa­ram­e­ters, Dis­ney’s “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” hews only loosely to its source ma­te­ri­als: Ger­man writer E.T.A. Hoff­mann’s 1816 fan­tasy story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” and the twoact bal­let - now a sta­ple of Christ­mas­time en­ter­tain­ment - that is based on it. Other­wise, the film, a mix of live ac­tion and CGI, is, for bet­ter and for worse, pure Dis­ney.

What that means is a vis­ual spec­ta­cle that is wildly imag­i­na­tive, daz­zling and, more of­ten than not, charm­ing, har­nessed to a screen­play (by Ash­leigh Pow­ell) that pads out the slender, dream­like fa­ble at its heart with an at times need­lessly busy nar­ra­tive that evokes “Alice in Won­der­land,” “The Chron­i­cles of Nar­nia” and, at its most ex­trav­a­gant, Cirque du Soleil. That said, the movie also in­cludes pas­sages of sim­ple bal­let fea­tur­ing Misty Copeland. While do­ing lit­tle to ad­vance the larger story, the beau­ti­ful dance se­quences make for a de­light­ful re­minder of the film’s roots. The score, by James New­ton Howard, also mixes in plen­ti­ful chunks of Tchaikovsky’s fa­mil­iar mu­sic.

As with most ver­sions of the bal­let, the story cen­ters on a girl named Clara Stahlbaum (Macken­zie Foy) and opens at a Christ­mas Eve party that is at­tended by her fa­ther (Matthew Mac­fadyen) and god­fa­ther (Mor­gan Free­man), a toy­maker of in­ge­nious con­trivances named Drosselmeyer. In this Lon­don-set ver­sion of the tale, when Clara wan­ders off in search of her present from Drosselmeyer, the key to a locked, or­nate metal egg, she en­ters -— via a “Nar­nia”-like magic por­tal — an al­ter­nate uni­verse.

There, she meets the film’s ti­tle char­ac­ter: a wooden nutcracker who has turned into a young sol­dier named Philip (Jay­den Fowora-Knight). He in­tro­duces Clara to four realms: the lands of Sweets, Snowflakes, Flow­ers and Amuse­ments, each one reigned over by a dif­fer­ent re­gent (played to per­fec­tion by Keira Knight­ley, Richard E. Grant, Eu­ge­nio Der­bez and He­len Mir­ren, re­spec­tively). In this telling, there is dis­sent among the re­gents, and Mir­ren’s char­ac­ter — known as Mother Gin­ger, a char­ac­ter from the bal­let un­der whose vo­lu­mi­nous skirts live a co­terie of clowns — is pre­sented as the vil­lain. But all is not as it seems. In Pow­ell’s screen­play, as in the bal­let, a bat­tle en­sues among mice, tin sol­diers, Clara, Philip and var­i­ous oth­ers, but it is in ser­vice of an ex­tra­ne­ous power strug­gle that doesn’t make much log­i­cal sense if you think about it too hard. A sub­plot in­volves Clara’s jour­ney of self-dis­cov­ery and fem­i­nist em­pow­er­ment, a seem­ingly de rigueur plot point these days in ev­ery fe­male-cen­tric Dis­ney of­fer­ing from “Beauty and the Beast” to “A Wrin­kle in Time.” And good for them. “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” can be a lit­tle bit scary at times. The Mouse King, for in­stance, is a horse-size mouse-cloud made up of hun­dreds of squirming, nor­mal-size ro­dents. Ku­dos to the spe­cial ef­fects team that dreamed this thing up, but ew. Other­wise, the ac­tion is all make-believe, in­volv­ing, for the most part, toys with non­lethal weapons.

In the end, “Nutcracker” is a de­light­fully old-school diversion. The plot may not al­ways hum with the clock­work pre­ci­sion of one of Drosselmeyer’s me­chan­i­cal toys, but like a mu­sic box, it nev­er­the­less plays a sweet tune.

“The Nutcracker,” a Dis­ney re­leaase, is rated PG. Run­ning time: 90 min­utes.



Macken­zie Foy, left, and Keira Knight­ley stars in the new Dis­ney re­lease “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.”

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