Review: ‘Hairspray’ is a great new movie musical

If the 2007 rendition of “Hairspray” doesn’t bring back the movie musical, nothing will.

Not only does it have deliriously catchy songs, glamorous costumes and a cool retro setting, its actors, old favorites and youthful newcomers, are truly committed to the form, belting out show tunes with no apology or irony.

It’s truly funny, too; the clever script by Leslie Dixon is packed with charm and enough visual gags to rival an episode of “The Simpsons.”

Director/choreographer Adam Shankman succeeds in what intuitively seems a difficult — if not silly, — task: creating something new based on the popular 2002 stage musical (music by Mark Shaiman and Scott Wittman), which evolved from John Waters’ original 1988 film.

It’s like a sideways version of the telephone game, the paradoxical result completely satisfying. While king of camp Waters celebrated the grotesque in the original, the new movie couldn’t be more commercial or mainstream. Yet in the end, both are enormously fun, and both champion acceptance and humanity.

Set in Baltimore in 1962, “Hairspray” tells the story of “fat girl” Tracy Turnblad (vibrant Nikki Blonsky), who, against all odds, realizes her dream of dancing with dreamy Linc Larkin (Zac Efron) on the “American Bandstand”-like “Corny Collins Show” after learning extraordinary moves from “Seaweed” (Elijah Kelley), a “Negro” she meets in her high school’s detention hall.

Supported by her ample mom (John Travolta, singing and dancing again after decades), novelty-store owner dad (Christopher Walken) and best pal Penny (Amanda Bynes), she’s nonetheless foiled in her efforts; former beauty queen Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer), the show’s producer, is dead set against seeing big — or black — people on TV.

But Tracy, befriended by local soul star Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah), is adamant in her effort to “make every day Negro day” on the show; tackling it with the same enthusiasm as she teases her hair and practices the twist. How everything gets ironed out doesn’t come with huge surprises, but the journey there is filled with glee, as well as the obvious message on race relations and some cool feminist undertones.

“Hairspray” is like an exhilarating amusement park ride that grabs you from the get-go and doesn’t let up. You’ll want to go on it again and again.

Hairspray ****

Starring Nikki Blonsky, John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Amanda Bynes, Elijah Kelley, Queen Latifah

Written by Leslie Dixon

Directed by Adam Shankman

Rated PG

Running time: 1 hours, 55 minutes

lkatz@examiner.com


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