Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, Anika Noni Rose, Keith Robinson, Jennifer Hudson, Sharon Leal, Hinton Battle, John Lithgow
Written by: Bill Condon, based on the stage musical by Tom Eyen
Directed by: Bill Condon
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, some sexuality and drug content
Running Time: 131
Date: 12/09/2006

Dreamgirls (2006)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Pitsville, USA

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Directed by Bill Condon (who wrote the screenplay for Chicago) and adapted from the Broadway stage, this lackluster neo-musical only partially succeeds at cramming the oversized material into the cinema's more intimate setting. Jamie Foxx stars as Curtis Taylor Jr., a very loose stand-in for Berry Gordy of Motown records. He snaps up a girl act, the Dreamettes, and assigns them as backup singers for James 'Thunder' Early (Eddie Murphy), a loose stand-in for James Brown, Little Richard and Marvin Gaye. The Dreamettes rise to the top, but only because the thin, pretty Deena Jones (Beyoncé Knowles) emerges as lead singer, instead of the more voluptuous, more talented Effie Melody White (newcomer Jennifer Hudson, from "American Idol"). The movie would have us believe that Hudson's multi-syllabic caterwauling is "better" than Beyoncé's smooth pop, but in actuality, Beyoncé better knows how to sell a song. Hence, between the two versions of the title song, I'll take Beyoncé's earlier, sexier one over the climactic, "victorious" one. Regardless, none of the songs come anywhere near the original Motown tunes to which they purportedly pay tribute. As for the performances, Foxx does little more than grimace throughout the production, but Murphy shows an exuberance not seen since his early days as a stand-up comic; he's remarkable. Notably, director Condon appears in some ways to be mirroring the career of his hero, James Whale, in that he has worked in horror films, dramas and musicals. But I suspect he'll be remembered for his quietly superb Gods and Monsters rather than bombastic, oversized music videos like this one.

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