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This review was written for the theatrical release of “Hairspray.”
John Travolta takes on John Waters in “Hairspray,” and the result is anything but a drag in this appealingly goofy, all-singing, all-dancing screen adaptation of the Broadway musical based on the 1988 film.
Although it has lost a good portion of that Waters subversive edge along the way and it takes a little while to find its footing, the still-amusing if frenetic results make for an improvement over the similar transition made by 2005’s “The Producers.”
The lure of seeing Travolta going back to his musical roots — albeit while encased in a 30-pound, full-body fat suit — and backed by a sparkling supporting cast including Christopher Walken, Michelle Pfeiffer and Queen Latifah, should ensure that this summer confection generates some buoyant boxoffice.
Also returning to his roots here is choreographer-turned-director Adam Shankman (“Bringing Down the House,” “The Pacifier”), and his broader instincts in both capacities work in the picture’s favor.
From the moment bouncy newcomer Nikki Blonsky (as bouncy, young Tracy Turnblad) pops up singing the opening number “Good Morning Baltimore” while perched atop a garbage truck, the picture’s genially trashy tone is neatly established.
Travolta doesn’t make his first appearance for another 10 minutes or so, as Tracy’s overly protective, sheltered mother, Edna, but once you get over the transformation, not to mention that disconcertingly odd accent that sounds something like a cross between Carol Channing and Cher, he wins you over.
Outfitted with noticeably more curvaceous padding than predecessors Divine and Harvey Fierstein, Travolta still manages to pull off some nimble moves that are somehow reminiscent of those dancing hippos in Walt Disney’s “Fantasia.”
He finds a spirited dance partner in Walken as Edna’s hubby and joke-store proprietor, Wilbur Turnblad. The former hoofer, making good on his promise in that now-classic Fat Boy Slim video, looks to be having a ball here, and he’s apparently not alone, judging from the work of some of his co-stars.
Pfeiffer clearly is enjoying being in Cruella mode as the bitter Velma Von Tussle, the faded beauty queen and racist manager of the TV station airing “The Corny Collins Show,” Baltimore’s version of “American Bandstand,” which ultimately will serve as ground zero for the integration movement, if Tracy has anything to do with it.
Also swell is “High School Musical” sensation Zac Efron as Link Larkin, the show’s reigning Elvis and Tracy’s love interest; Allison Janney as the Bible-thumping zealot, Prudy Pingleton; and Queen Latifah as Motormouth Maybelle, the blond-tressed record store owner whose rendition of the stirring “I Know Where I’ve Been” is the movie’s musical highlight.
Terrific, too, are Elijah Kelley and Taylor Parks as Maybelle’s kids, while Jerry Stiller and Ricki Lake, who both appeared in the original film, turn up in cameos, as does Waters.
Leslie Dixon’s script distills the essence of the film and Broadway versions, while production values for the shot-in-Toronto picture are appropriately peppy. A big shout-out goes to veteran costume designer Rita Ryack for her tastefully tacky contributions.
Songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who took home a Tony for their work on the musical edition, contribute several new songs to the movie, though none prove to be as catchy as those Brill Building tributes, “Good Morning Baltimore,” “I Can Hear the Bells” or “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”
New Line Cinema
A New Line Cinema presentation in association with Ingenious Film Partners
Director: Adam Shankman
Screenwriter: Leslie Dixon
Based on the 1988 screenplay by: John Waters and the 2002 musical stage play with book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan
Music: Marc Shaiman
Music-lyrics: Scott Wittman, Marc Shaiman
Producers: Craig Zadan, Neil Meron
Executive producers: Bob Shaye, Michael Lynne, Toby Emmerich, Mark Kaufman, Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Adam Shankman, Jennifer Gibgot, Garrett Grant
Director of photography: Bojan Bazelli
Production designer: David Gropman
Songs: Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman
Co-producers: Michael Disco, Daryl Freimark, Travis Knox
Costume designer: Rita Ryack
Editor: Michael Tronick
Choreographer: Adam Shankman
Cast: Edna Turnblad: John Travolta
Velma Von Tussle: Michelle Pfeiffer
Wilbur Turnblad: Christpher Walken
Penny Pingleton: Amanda Bynes
Corny Collins: James Marsden
Motormouth Maybelle: Queen Latifah
Amber Von Tussle: Brittany Snow
Link Larkin: Zac Efron
Seaweed: Elijah Kelley
Prudy Pingleton: Allison Janney
Mr. Pinky: Jerry Stiller
Mr. Spritzer: Paul Dooley
Tracy Turnblad: Nikki Blonsky
Little Inez: Taylor Parks
Running time –117 minutes
MPAA rating: PG
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