I remember when I went to see John Water's “Hairspray” in 1988 with zero expectations and came away absolutely floored by the wonderful experience.
Nineteen years later, “Hairspray” has done it again - this time with the film version of the Broadway musical based on the 1988 movie. The latest version is just as good, if not better, with an infectious soundtrack and an all-star cast that precisely hits every note. This is easily the most entertaining major studio release of 2007.
“Hairspray” tells the story of Tracy Turnblad (newcomer Nikki Blonsky), a plus-sized teenager in 1962 Baltimore who dreams of becoming a dancer on the local “American Bandstand”-like show - the “Corny Collins Show.”
When one of the stars leaves the show, Tracy manages to make an impression and soon finds herself locked in a battle with dance queen Amber Von Tussle (Brittany Snow) and her mother, Velma (Michelle Pfieffer), the TV's station manager.
The rivalry gets even more heated when Tracy decides that it is unfair that the show only allows one day a month for black kids to dance and she sets out to get the “Corny Collins Show” integrated.
Some TV ads have referred to “Hairspray” as this generation's “Grease” and there are certainly some similarities (beyond the obvious connection of John Travolta in both films).
Like “Grease,” “Hairspray” perfectly captures the era in which it is set - with an innocent charm that adds to the enjoyment. But what makes “Hairspray” even more charming is the fact that it manages to have a breezy attitude, but also has a message about racism and acceptance that doesn't feel too preachy.
The cast is exceptional.
Blonsky is a delight as Tracy - she captures the character's spunky outlook on life perfectly. Pfeiffer really sinks her teeth into the antagonist role and Amanda Bynes is adorable as Tracy's friend, Penny. There are also several cameos that pay tribute to the original film.
Then there is John Travolta, who dons plenty of make-up and a fat suit to play Tracy's mother, Edna (following in the footsteps of Divine and Harvey Feinstein). At first it's easy to overlook Travolta's performance as a gimmick, but as the film progresses, the actor manages to make you forget who he is.
A musical number with Christopher Walken (who plays Tracy's dad, Wilbur) is so bizarre, yet so enjoyable (probably because I don't think I could have ever imagined a Fred Astaire-like musical number that involved Walken and Travolta). And by the time Edna finds her inner Danny Zuko in the rousing finale “You Can't Stop the Beat,” it became obvious that Travolta had won me over - much like this absolutely amazing film.
DVD dandy of the week
This week's dandy is �” (B), not one of the most mentally challenging films ever, but boy, is it a lot of fun.
This adaptation of a graphic novel by Frank Miller (the man behind “Sin City”) is an orgy of blood, full of spectacular visuals that give the film a true comic book feel.
�” tells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) is intent on leading his Spartans against the Persian empire, with hopes of thwarting the Persians' plans to take control of his country.
The king is unable to get the approval of the high council, so he takes 300 of his finest soldiers into what is essentially a suicide mission, hoping to buy enough time to get his wife (Lena Headey) to persuade the council to join Leonidas in his fight against Persia.
The political story has drawn attention in some circles as being a masked form of pro-George W. Bush propaganda (which is utter hogwash). The fact of the matter is, the plot proves irrelevant - the main attraction is the stylized violence during the many battle sequences.
Director Zack Snyder, who did the entertaining remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” stages one breathtaking sequence after another, and never lets silly obstacles like a plot get in the way.
The acting is pretty good for a film that could have probably gotten away with a completely computer-generated cast. Butler seems to be channeling Brian Blessed's performance as Lord Vultan, the leader of the hawk men from “Flash Gordon” - really sinking his teeth into a character that is so over the top, it practically leaps off the screen. Headey has the perfect balance of smarts and sexiness that makes her performance impressive as well.
�” isn't up to the same level as “Sin City,” but it is still quite entertaining. Fans of blood, gore and comic book violence won't be disappointed.
�” is rated R for graphic battle sequences throughout, some sexuality and nudity and will be available on DVD on Tuesday.
- Sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton, whose own dreams of becoming a legendary dancer have only momentarily been set aside for the pursuit of journalism, can be reached for comment by e-mailing email@example.com.