To borrow the title of "Hairspray’s" finale, you can’t stop the beat.
Then again, why would anyone want to, when it’s such a wigged-out blast from the past?
Granted, this musical version isn’t the cheerfully subversive laugh riot its source material — writer-director John Waters’ 1988 mainstream breakthrough — proved to be. Yet never in a stampede of pink flamingoes did I ever imagine that a movie from the patron saint of tastelessness would inspire a Tony-winning musical that just hit No. 25 on Broadway’s list of longest-running shows.
Or that said musical (which enjoyed a sadly abbreviated run at the Luxor) would inspire a screen adaptation that’s at least as much bouncy fun as the stage version. (Something you definitely can’t say about, say, "The Producers.")
"Hairspray" ranks as a rare something-for-everyone movie, with a generation-spanning cast of musical heartthrobs from John Travolta (for the baby boomers) to Zac Efron (for the ‘tweens who made "High School Musical" a phenomenon on, and beyond, the Disney Channel).
Add such musical vets as Queen Latifah (Oscar-nominated for "Chicago"), Michelle Pfeiffer (Oscar-nominated for "The Fabulous Baker Boys"), James Marsden (turning in the wraparound specs he wore as "X-Men’s" laser-eyed Cyclops) and Christopher Walken (who began his illustrious career as a Broadway chorus boy) and the stage is set for a socko hop of winning proportions.
Some of that is due, in part, to another former Broadway dancer: director-choreographer Adam Shankman, whose prior big-screen comedies ("Bringing Down the House," "The Pacifier") displayed definite commercial instincts but limited comedic flair.
This time, however, Shankman has sure-fire material — and, for the most part, knows exactly what to do with it. (Which is not always the case, as you know if you saw such stage-to-screen misfires as "Rent" and "Phantom of the Opera.")
Screenwriter Leslie Dixon ("Mrs. Doubtfire," "Freaky Friday") cannily adapts Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan’s Broadway book, which streamlined and smoothed the rough edges of Waters’ original but retained its basic premise: the triumph of underdog outsiders over smug, often hostile powers-that-be.
In "Hairspray," plenty of people would consider Tracy Turnblad (newcomer Nikki Blonsky) an outsider. Happily, she’s not one of them.
Perky, peppy — and decidedly plus-size — Tracy can’t help dancing through life, even when that life takes place amid the grimy confines of 1962 Baltimore.
After school, Tracy and her best pal, lollipop-addicted Penny Pingleton (a deadpan Amanda Bynes), rush home to bop ’til they drop watching "The Corny Collins Show," in which the grinning host (a slyly obsequious Marsden) welcomes a clean teens he describes as "the nicest kids in town."
They’re certainly the whitest; only on the monthly "Negro Day," hosted by record-shop owner Motormouth Maybelle (a beaming Latifah), do Baltimore’s kids of color get a chance to dance on TV.
Tracy’s such a great dancer she’d be a natural on "The Corny Collins Show," but her laundress mom Edna (Travolta, hamming it up in fat-suit drag) worries that, when a spot opens up on Corny’s Teen Council, Tracy’s size will doom her to failure.
Nonsense, scoffs Tracy’s dad Wilbur (a droll but underused Walken), proprietor of "the Taj Mahal of joke shops," who advises his daughter to pursue her dreams — the bigger the better. Just like his girls.
At the tryouts, Tracy wows Corny (who’s not nearly as square as his name) with her sizzling steps — many of them originated by her after-class detention pal, Seaweed ("Take the Lead’s" dynamite Elijah Kelly), who’s as fleet of feet as his mom, Motormouth Maybelle, is flip of lip.
On TV, Tracy quickly becomes an audience favorite — much to the chagrin of teen queen Amber Von Tussle (prissy, hiss-worthy Brittany Snow), whose dreamboat partner Linc Larkin (a perfectly cast Efron) seems far too interested in the show’s breakout star.
But Amber isn’t worried; after all, the station manager is none other than her venomous mom (a witchy Pfeiffer), a former "Miss Baltimore Crabs" who’s not above sabotaging Tracy’s prospects — not only on "The Corny Collins Show," but in the cutthroat competition for the coveted Miss Teenage Hairspray title.
After all, they can’t have someone wearing the tiara who wishes, as Tracy does, that "every day was Negro Day."
In the original "Hairspray," Waters created a cartoon with a conscience, using outrageous comedic sensibilities to expose the stupidity and cruelty of the era, whether prejudices sprang from an unacceptable hairstyle — or an unacceptable skin color.
In this musical version, Waters’ outrageous extremes are softened to emit a nostalgic glow.
Throughout, Dixon and Shankman rejigger the musical numbers (including new showcases for Efron and Snow), interrupting — but not fatally — the stage version’s build-to-a-big-finish momentum.
And while I could have used far fewer shots of Travolta’s waddling, wide-load prosthetic posterior, Shankman takes full advantage of the movie medium, extending numbers in witty ways, whether it’s Tracy’s duetting with Linc as he gazes at her photo or figures on billboards and bus benches springing to life.
Moreover, Shankman mercifully dispenses with chop-a-matic MTV-style editing, allowing the numbers to breathe — and the singers and dancers to perform full-body and full-frame.
Even the new songs (by Tony-winners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) retain the original score’s irresistible combination of Broadway punch and finger-poppin’ cool.
Not only do they sound like they’re from the early ’60s, so does Blonsky, who sings with sweet, girl-group gusto and embodies Tracy with irresistible, soda-pop effervescence.
She’s a heroine whose spirit is even bigger than her hairdo, a fitting symbol for a movie with an in-the-right-place heartbeat — and a beat you can dance to.CAROL CLINGMORE COLUMNS
REVIEW movie: "Hairspray" running time: 117 minutes rating: PG; profanity, mild sexual references, teen smoking verdict: B+ now playing: Cannery, Cinedome, Green Valley, Neonopolis, Orleans, Palms, Rainbow, Red Rock, Sam’s Town, Santa Fe, Showcase, South Point, Suncoast, Sunset, Texas, Drive-in DEJA VIEW Gotta sing, gotta dance — to the back-beat rhythm of these rock ‘n’ roll musical faves: "Jailhouse Rock" (1957) — Everybody in (and out of) the whole cell block’s dancin’ to the jailhouse rock as ex-con Vince Everett (Elvis Presley) becomes a pop music sensation. "Bye Bye Birdie" (1963) — Elvis’ Army stint inspired this Broadway-to-Hollywood hit about a small-town Ohio teen (Ann-Margret) chosen to give her idol a farewell kiss on national TV. "Grease" (1978) — In another stage-to-screen smash, greaser Danny (John Travolta) and good-girl Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) try to rekindle their summer lovin’ back at Rydell High. "Hairspray" (1988) — It’s hairdos and hair-don’ts in director John Waters’ original romp, set in 1962 Baltimore, about a plus-size teen (Ricki Lake) who helps integrate a TV dance show. "Cry-Baby" (1990) — Waters spoofs ’50s teen-trash melodramas as the bad-boy title character (Johnny Depp) and a good-girl square (Amy Locane) find forbidden romance. — By CAROL CLING