Hairspray
Nikki Blonsky, John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah, Christopher Walken, Zac Efron | PG |

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CRITIC'S CHOICE

MUSICAL

When I saw The Music Man as a kid, my mother explained that I was witnessing what she called "the magic of movies" when the youngsters onscreen switched from wearing street clothes to—poof!—marching band uniforms. "They can't do that onstage," Mom said.

The joyous opening number in Hairspray bursts with similar cinematic dazzle. Pudgy teenager Tracy Turnblad (Blonsky) belts out the catchy "Good Morning, Baltimore" while giving a quickie guided tour of her hometown's dubious attractions and then—big finish—daintily hops atop a garbage truck, which delivers her to her high school. Watching this, the heart swells, and you remember why Broadway was once Hollywood's favorite street.

Hairspray is always fun, but the film, unevenly directed by Adam Shankman (Cheaper by the Dozen 2), never achieves that level of bliss again. Set in 1962, the movie traces Tracy's push to integrate a local TV teen dance show. A vest-pocket powerhouse, newcomer Blonsky is beguiling and easy to root for. As her overprotective mom, Travolta (in padded drag) connects deliciously with his inner matron. But his role—and those of Walken, Pfeiffer and Latifah—has been beefed up superfluously from the original 2002 Broadway stage hit, which was itself based on John Waters's 1988 nonmusical movie. While these older, bigger-named stars are all tremendously talented, at times they get in the way of Hairspray's holding power.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry
Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Jessica Biel PG-13 |

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COMEDY

Talk about having it both ways—no double entendre intended—this alleged comedy about two straight Brooklyn firemen who enter into a bogus domestic partnership trades on every gay stereotype it can come up with before finding politically correct enlightenment at the end. It's the equivalent of telling a long string of tasteless sexist or ethnic jokes and then claiming that such humor is offensive.

The highly suspect premise has widowed Larry (James) convincing Chuck (Sandler), his horndog best buddy, to register with him at city hall as a couple to protect Larry's pension for his two kids. When a city investigator (Steve Buscemi) smells a rat, the two must move in together, wed (in Canada) and go public with their supposed gayness. As they encounter prejudice from others, their own prejudices drop away. Cue the Judy Garland CDs.

It's all as stupefying and offensive as it sounds—a rude, crude Gay Like Me. And, not content merely to rank on one minority group, the movie gives the ever imbecilic Rob Schneider an extended, unbilled cameo as an "L"-dropping Asian minister at a wedding chapel, a performance that makes Mickey Rooney's notoriously exaggerated turn as a Japanese landlord in 1961's Breakfast at Tiffany's seem a model of sensitivity.

Sunshine
Rose Byrne, Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans | R |

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SCI-FI

Sometimes a movie can jump so far off the track near the end that it comes close to ruining whatever good memories you had of the journey that went before. That's nearly the case with Sunshine, the 2001: A Space Odyssey-influenced futuristic drama from director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland, the accomplished duo behind 2002's 28 Days Later. Their sci-fi odyssey begins with a team of absurdly good-looking astronauts aboard a spaceship that's headed for the sun. The crew's dangerous mission: to restoke the brightness level of the sun, whose light on Earth is fast fading.

The crew are the usual mixed lot. There's the hothead (Evans), the sensitive guy (Murphy), the no-nonsense one (Byrne) and the optimist (Michelle Yeoh). When things start to go bad for them—when was the last time there was an uneventful, happy-all-the-time flight in a sci-fi film?—they are tested, and not everyone measures up.

Much of this is absorbing, and the actors do a fine job, especially given the heaping gobs of techno-jargon they're asked to spout. But late in Sunshine, when the story takes a giant leap into supernatural wooziness, viewers may find themselves feeling around on their armrest for the ejection button.