Hollywood must be trying to get its groove back. Last month it kicked off Oscar’s final quarter with A Star is Born. In May we’ll get Rocketman, a biopic of Elton John. And this weekend, it hits the occasional high note with Bohemian Rhapsody, the story of Freddie Mercury, the brash front man of the band Queen.

While the film follows most of the tropes of a Hollywood rock band biopic — so much so it can feel like a high-priced episode of VH1’s Behind the Music — there’s no denying the performance of Rami Malek, who plays Mercury and may need to choose a tux come Oscar time.

Directed by Bryan Singer, Rhapsody hits most of the cursory points in any rise-and-fall rock n’ roll tale. What elevates Rhapsody, however, is the same thing that elevated Queen: a mesmerizing lead performer.

In Queen’s case, it was Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara, whose four-octave vocal span (and four extra incisors) blended to give him such range it prompted genuine scientific study. In Rhapsody‘s, it’s Malek of Mr. Robot fame. Malek so fully inhabits Mercury’s character he manages to lift the film above the story’s sprawling, uneven tone. The movie may be hesitant to take chances, but Malek never is. That he does much of his own singing and so resembles Mercury in appearance and bravado only enhances the performance.

The movie opens with a palatable buzz, with Mercury making his way through the backstage chaos of Wembley Stadium during the 1085 Live Aid concert. As the band breaks into  “Somebody to Love” before 72,000 screaming fans, we see the scaffolding of the movie’s storyline emerge: A man adored by literally millions, but figuratively very much alone.

Alas, Rhapsody can’t keep pace with its burst from the gate. After the concert, we are  shifted back in time when Mercury was in his mid-20’s, living with his parents and handling baggage at Heathrow Airport. And it’s here that the movie makes its first stumble: Though born to a Parsi family from Zanzibar (Mercury attended boarding school in India), we get little insight into that life — or his desire to abandon it.

Instead, we get a standard bullet-point biography of the band’s ascent, with cliched rockisms aplenty. Rhapsody seems less interested in showing what made Queen so successful than saying it in a script. “I’m melodramatic,” Mercury announces in his parking lot audition to be the band’s new lead singer. We’re treated to other painful, requisite biopic quips, such as “I won’t compromise my vision” and “We’re just not thinking big enough.” Much of the screenplay sounds as if it were gleaned from Wikipedia.

That’s not entirely Rhapsody‘s fault. It was struggling for consistency before the film was released:  Singer was fired toward the end of shooting for not showing up on set (Singer said it was to visit an ill parent) and was replaced by Dexter Fletcher. (Singer remains the credited director, while Fletcher is listed as a producer.) The script also bounced around before landing in the hands of Anthony McCarten (Darkest HourThe Theory of Everything).

Perhaps that’s what makes the movie feel rushed. In the span of minutes, it seems, Queen is a sensation with a record contract (Mike Meyers has a great cameo as EMI executive Ray Foster) and plans for rock and roll world domination. There are some nice out-of-studio moments, such as when executives ask what the lyrics of Rhapsody mean and question its operatic motifs. But we rarely  see the band practicing — or even conceptualizing — its sound.

Where the film picks up pace is between sessions, when we get hints that Mercury, who died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1991, was hardly as freewheeling offstage as on. Malek is near transcendent in his leaps from flamboyance to vulnerability: much of the movie focuses on his relationships with longtime partner Mary Austin (Lucy Boyton) and, later, with personal manager-boyfriend, Paul Prenter (Allen Leech). Mercury’s platonic and naive devotion to Austin — and Austin’s own conflicted romantic desires — give the movie much of its sporadic humor and heart.

Still, make no mistake: this is Malek’s showcase. From overbite to on-stage exuberance, Malek is fearless in embracing everything that made Mercury such an enthralling silhouetto of a man. And since two band members served as producers on the film, Rhapsody, as expected, has a Queen-filled soundtrack worth owning even if you don’t see the movie. But if you do, Malek will rock you.