Friday, November 23, 2007

Hairspray: Grade D

Hairspray (2007)
John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Queen Latifah, Nikki Blonsky. Director Adam Shankman.

This musical comedy pretends to a serious message, advocacy for racial integration in 1960’s Baltimore. A chubby white teenager (Blonsky), born to dance to rock ‘n’ roll, gets a spot on the TV show representing American Bandstand. She engages the black dancers (who appear only on “Negro Day”) and introduces new moves, consisting mainly of flailing the arms, to a white audience. The story treats the racial divide of the period as a cartoon, and except for some colorful costumes, the movie is not even good looking. The music is highly repetitive. Harmonies are bland, tonal range is about four notes, rhythms grate unrelentingly, and lyrics, when intelligible, are inane. None of the excitement, soul, or romanticism of 1960’s pop music, black or white, is captured.

This is a remake of the 1988 Hairspray, which was already a knock off of Travolta’s 1977 Grease. There was also the long running Broadway show, Hairspray. So here it is again on film for some reason. Travolta plays Blonsky’s mother in the kind of enormous fat suit favored by Eddie Murphy. Walken is the husband in bowling shirt. Neither character is funny, not even in that contrived, “let’s all pretend this is funny” musical comedy sense. The dancing is tragically awful. Michelle Pfeiffer still looks good but, I am sorry to report, cannot sing. Walken can’t either, but doesn’t really aspire to. Queen Latifah does have musical talent however, and she is one of the few bright lights in this dim movie.

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