[Screen It]

(2007) (Nikki Blonsky, John Travolta) (PG)

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Musical Comedy: A white teen tries to get on a 1960s TV dance show only to find herself involved in efforts to integrate it.
For plump teenager Tracy Turnblad (NIKKI BLONSKY), there's nothing better than the Corny Collins Show, a TV dance program hosted by Corny Collins (JAMES MARSDEN) and featuring a number of ultra-cool dancers, including the dreamy Link Larkin (ZAC EFRON). Every day, she and friend Penny Pingleton (AMANDA BYNES) race home from school to watch and dance along with the show, amusing Tracy's homebound laundress mom Edna (JOHN TRAVOLTA), but that doesn't sit well with Penny's ultra-conservative mother, Prudy (ALLISON JANNEY).

Tracy dreams of being on the show, but Edna, who's also quite big, tries to discourage her, worried about how the world will treat her overweight daughter. Tracy's novelty shop owner dad, Wilbur (CHRISTOPHER WALKEN), on the other hand, encourage her to follow her heart and dreams.

Accordingly, when one of the show's dancers has to leave for nine months, Tracy shows up for the replacement auditions. She's immediately rebuked, however, by station manager Velma Von Tussle (MICHELLE PFEIFFER) whose daughter, Amber (BRITTANY SNOW), is on the show and is hoping to follow in her mom's footsteps of being crowned Miss Baltimore Crabs. Both look down on Tracy, not only for being overweight, but also because she thinks the show should be integrated.

That's not only because she enjoys the show's "Negro Day" that's hosted just once a month by record store owner Motormouth Maybelle (QUEEN LATIFAH), but also due to meeting her kids, teenager Seaweed (ELIJAH KELLEY) and his younger sister, Little Inez (TAYLOR PARKS), and being impressed by their dance moves.

It's the latter that Tracy uses to land a spot on the show, a point that doesn't sit well with either of the Von Tussles. From that point on, they do everything in their power to undermine Tracy, all as she tries to integrate the show while also longing for Link.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Even in today's supposedly enlightened world, it's amazing that mixed race couples still get flak for not being ethnically homogenous. Of course, things are much better than they were a half century ago when the races were separated, not just culturally, but also physically, be that on buses, in movie theaters or even teen dance shows.

The latter is the focus in "Hairspray," the movie adaptation of the Tony award-winning Broadway musical that itself was based on John Waters' 1988 comedy of the same name. Following in the movie to stage musical to movie musical footsteps unsuccessfully blazed by "The Producers," this is a far more successful and highly entertaining if occasionally uneven offering that should play well across most every demographic.

As in the previous versions, the setting is 1962 Baltimore where young Tracy Turnblad (a delightful Nikki Blonsky making a fabulous big screen debut) races home every day with her best friend (Amanda Bynes) to watch the Corny Collins Show, a local teen dance program akin to "American Bandstand."

Being colorblind, she's drawn into the black dance scene, particularly after watching Elijah Kelley and young Taylor Parks do their thing (and they're as much of a cinematic find as Blonsky). "I wish every day was Negro day" she gushes about the one day each month when the black kids get to strut their stuff on the show with Queen Latifah's character briefly taking over the hosting reigns from the perfectly cast James Marsden.

When Tracy learns that the show's been canceled by the station manager (Michelle Pfeiffer in full Cruella De Vil mode) who doesn't like the girl for being plump, perky, into integration and likely to upset her daughter (Brittany Snow) in their quest to be crowned Miss Baltimore Crabs, the teen joins a protest. Her homebound mom (John Travolta in celebrity casting drag, following in the footsteps of Divine and Harvey Feinstein before him, initially distracting, but eventually okay) is concerned, but her supportive dad (Christopher Walken once again doing the slightly crazy guy thing) encourages her to damn the proverbial torpedoes and follow her heart full steam ahead.

Which is what the film is all about, especially in terms of accepting others for who and what they are. Of course, none of it's terribly deep, insightful or especially novel, but screenwriter Leslie Dixon and lyricists Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman manage to infuse that into the proceedings without any of it coming off as preachy or stuffy.

In fact, the film is near constantly one-hundred and eighty degrees away from that latter quality, what with its often terrific musical numbers, lively dance choreography, fun young cast members, and an infectious spirit that one simply can't deny.

Purist fans of the Broadway musical might not like some songs being jettisoned in favor of the inclusion of some new ones, but the casual viewer won't notice. From the terrific opening number, "Good Morning Baltimore," all the way through to the conclusion, viewers are likely to find themselves with a smile on their face and their toes tapping along to the lively beat.

Considering the results, perhaps the most surprising thing is that the film is directed by Adam Shankman, who previously helmed the less than spectacular comedies "The Pacifier" and "Cheaper by the Dozen 2." Seemingly having cinematically grown up somewhere between them and this film, the director might occasionally let the momentum wane (usually when the veteran and more famous actors get the spotlight), but for the most part he has the film barreling along at a giddy pace akin to what one used to find in bubblegum type musicals.

Perhaps not quite as much overall fun as the Broadway version but still quite entertaining and enjoyable, "Hairspray" is near perfectly coiffed as a bit of fluffy summer escapism with some messages nicely arranged into the "do." The film rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed July 16, 2007 / Posted July 20, 2007

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