I feel for John Travolta. The man starred in some of the greatest American dance movies of all time (Grease, Saturday Night Fever), then faded into the shadows until he rose from the dead to dance with Uma Thurman under the watchful eye of career-resuscitator Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction. Now that he's been let back into the party, Johnny wants to call the shots again. And so he gets to fill the shoes of the late, great Divine as Edna Turnblad in the latest incarnation of Hairspray. While more Mrs. Doubtfire and less subversive than the role's first owner, Travolta holds his own in a fat suit and heels, even if he seems a little overindulged.
Speaking of subversion, you won't find much of it in this Hairspray, which is a blend of John Waters' original 1988 film and the 2002 Broadway musical. Shiny, colorful, and cheerful, the new version is all about the energy and good times—even the segregation issues at the story's heart are treated as little more than a pesky buzz kill.
Leading the film is the previously unknown Nikki Blonsky as Tracy Turnblad, the irrepressible, colorblind chubby chick who lives to dance, and almost single-handedly integrates a televised dance show in 1962 Baltimore. Supporting her are A-listers like Christopher Walken (as her father, Wilbur Turnblad, giving Travolta his best scenes), Queen Latifah (as Motormouth Maybelle, host of the "Negro Day" dance show), and Michelle Pfeiffer (as the aging, racist beauty queen station manager Velma Von Tussle).
There are also a number of cameos from the original film, including a lightning-fast appearance by Waters himself, Jerry Stiller (the original Wilbur Turnblad) as Mr. Pinky, owner of the plus-sized dress shop, and Ricki Lake, the O.G. Tracy (who, it must be noted, played the role with more attitude than the cutesier Blonsky).
Other than nostalgia, and an excuse for a light, unserious good time, there isn't much reason to remake Hairspray. Still, its enthusiasm is infectious, and the campy satire is in full swing. So pocket the cynicism—there's no need to rain on this parade, even if it means letting Ol' Twinkle Toes Travolta have his fun.