Starring John Travolta, Nikki Blonsky, Elijah Kelley, and Christopher Walken. Rated PG. For showtimes, see our Movies Time Out
Back in 1988, very few people could have imagined a time when anyone would be shouting, "Get me a young Ricki Lake!" Well, here it is, almost 20 years later, and we have Nikki Blonsky, born the year of the original Hairspray, channelling La Lake as portly Tracy Turnblad.
No, I don't know what any of that means, except to say that the more things change, the more John Waters stays the same. He appears here, very briefly, as an affectionately tolerated Baltimore flasher, circa 1962. Jerry Stiller, who played Tracy's doting father, has a tiny role too, while Christopher Walken steps into Mr Turnblad's oversize shoes. (He runs a forever-empty joke shop.)
Divine, having died just after the first movie was released, was not available for a cameo, so the honour of playing the extra-large Edna Turnblad is assayed by John Travolta, who has a funny accent but otherwise doesn't alter the timbre of his voice. Maybe all that Grease went to his hips.
But most of the movie's high spirits are found among the young'uns. Working from a script by Leslie Dixon, who specializes in redos (Freaky Friday, The Thomas Crown Affair), director Adam Shankman gets the most out of his youthful cast. James Marsden is terrific as the TV host, but one standout is Elijah Kelley as Seaweed J. Stubbs, the hot dancer who seeks to integrate both The Corny Collins Show dance floor and Baltimore's boudoirs.
It turns out he has a jones for Tracy's pal Penny (Amanda Bynes). And there's more civil rightsin' from his mom, Motormouth Maybelle, with Queen Latifah practically taciturn compared with the original's R&B legend Ruth Brown. More closely matched is Michelle Pfeiffer, taking over from Debbie Harry as uptight station manager Velma Von Tussle.
The ability to shock North Americans has lessened greatly since irony and camp became the lingua franca of both showbiz and political humour, but Waters; who practically trademarked those qualities back in the 1980s; retains a kind of sincerity of purpose that is refreshing. Of course, this is an adaptation of Mark O'Donnell's musical as much as it is of Waters's first crossover hit, and the song quality is variable. But here at least it is appropriate to the characters: the white kids are adenoidal, the black ones gospel-funky, and the old-timers are stuck in the swing era. The script is full of anachronisms, but Hairspray's sense of history delivers a needed spritz in the face.