Hairspray

2007, Movie, PG, 117 mins

Review

HAIRSPRAY
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A cotton-candy gloss on gleeful provocateur John Waters' sweetest movie, director-choreographer Adam Shankman and screenwriter Leslie Dixon's adaptation of the Broadway musical is so cute, sugary, bubbly and eager to please that its essential blandness could almost go unnoticed.

Congenitally cheerful tubby-teen Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) and her best friend Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes) live for rock 'n' roll, and in 1962 Baltimore, rock lives on "The Corny Collins Show," a locally produced American Bandstand knockoff. Tracy dreams of dancing on the program, especially if it gets her closer to dreamboat Link Larkin (HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL's Zac Efron). But her overprotective mother, obese shut-in Edna (John Travolta), won't let her try out: Tracy thinks her mom is just being square, but Edna is secretly afraid her little girl will be exposed to a traumatic barrage of fat jokes. Edna's not wrong about the meanness of teenagers in general and of "Corny Collins" queen bee Amber von Tussle (Brittany Snow)in particular, who learned her prejudices at the feet of her own mother, ferociously thin former Miss Maryland and current station manager Velma von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer). But Edna underestimates Tracy's pluck and resilience: Not only does Tracy charm host Corny Collins (James Marsden), steal Link from stuck-up Amber, snare an endorsement deal with Mr. Pinky's (Jerry Stiller, Tracy's dad in the original) plus-size dress shop and persuade Edna to leave the house for the first time in years, but she also spearheads the show's integration. No longer will African-American singers and sock-hoppers be restricted to the once-monthly "Negro Night" hosted by record-shop owner Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah)!

Like the movie of the stage musical THE PRODUCERS (1968), there's no getting around the fact that the original HAIRSPRAY (1988) is sharper than either subsequent variation. But unlike 2005's THE PRODUCERS, the 2007 HAIRSPRAY is no lead balloon: It's a pallid, unthreatening version of Waters' original, but it's also breezy, light entertainment, good clean fun on the order of — who'd have thought it? — Disney's blockbuster HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL (2006). Shankman's choreography is nothing special and Marc Shaiman's music isn't a patch on real '60s pop and R&B, but both get the job done. Efron and Elijah Kelley, who plays soulful dancer Seaweed, are terrific, newcomer Blonsky is charming, and Marsden is a delightful surprise — he can sing, dance and wear a skinny-lapelled suit like a champ. Plus, a slimmed-down Rikki Lake, who originated the role of Tracy, has a cameo. But the stunt casting of Travolta is just that — a stunt — and it's a shame that veteran hoofer Christopher Walken, who plays loyal, loving Mr. Turnblad, doesn't get a real number of his own, though his smooth moves are very much in evidence in a fragmented waltz with Travolta. For all the flash and flutter, the movie overall lacks, well, heft. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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