By Michael Rechtshaffen
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - 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 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 box office.
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
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
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
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."
Edna Turnblad: John Travolta
Velma Von Tussle: Michelle Pfeiffer
Wilbur Turnblad: Christopher 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
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.