Picks and Pans Review: Moulin Rouge
While easy to admire for its audacious vision and lush visuals, this feverishly busy, wake-'em-and-shake-'em attempt to revivify the movie musical keeps tripping over its own aggressive flashiness. Its score is loaded down with light-weight pop tunes (including Elton John's "Your Song," Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" and Madonna's "Like a Virgin"). And its choreography is more an illusion of choreography than the real thing because the film is so frantically edited that dancers barely strike a pose before the image changes. Moulin Rouge offers endless eye candy but no nourishment.
Named for the venerable night-club in Paris's Montmartre neighborhood where its story takes place, Moulin Rouge raids opera's La Traviata and La Boheme—and even that granddaddy of backstage musicals, 1933's 42nd Street—for its plot. Set in 1899, it follows Christian (McGregor), a penniless English writer, as he falls for Satine (Kidman), a jaded courtesan who is the star of the Moulin Rouge's stage extravaganzas. Satine, afflicted with a bad cough (and telltale blood on her hankie), returns his ardor. Her fragile health isn't the only threat to the duo's happiness; there's also a rich duke (Richard Roxburgh) who expects Satine to warm his bed in exchange for financing her latest show.
Talented Kidman and McGregor give their all here, but director-cowriter Baz Luhrmann (William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet) keeps getting in their way. In trying to remake the musical for the 21st century, he has his 19th-century characters break into late-20th-century ditties. Most of these songs lack the musical and lyrical heft for the emotional heavy lifting required, and Luhrmann's disinclination to let the characters sing the tunes through to their finish further dilutes their power. Only in a few scenes, when Kidman and McGregor are allowed to croon their way through extended solos or duets, does Rouge touch our hearts rather than just our orbs. (PG-13)
Bottom Line: No can-can do
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