Adam Shankman's pitiful musical-comedy HAIRSPRAY (*) was basically unwatchable. I know, I know...it's supposed to be kitschy and cheesy and over-the-top but it was just so lame I could barely take it. John Travolta, flat out, was an embarrassment. Truly. The man has appeared in some god awful studio garbage in his time, delivering some classically hammy performances. But here, his work in drag AND a fat suit, was just too much to take. It also doesn't help that he delivered every line of dialogue in his best (or worst?) Dr. Evil voice. Shankman's direction is spirited, to be sure, but to the point of annoyance. There's nothing remotely subtle (I know, subtlety is not the aim here) about the film as it crashes from one scene to the next. The only thing that this cheese-fest proved was that the actor James Marsden, who tore it up in the much better ENCHANTED, should ditch the movie career and have a go at it as a musical-theater star. And don't get me started on Nikki Blonsky...nails on a chalkboard. This was one of the worst movies of the year.
LUST, CAUTION (***), Ang Lee's new World War II erotic thriller is part espionage noir, part artsy-fartsy sexploitation. The acting was good, the scenery was nice, the story was predictable. The much hyped sex scenes were graphic but nothing any more graphic than what's on display in HBO's masterpiece television show TELL ME YOU LOVE ME; the flexibility of the actors is the most interesting aspects of the sex scenes. Tony Leung is his steely, icy self, and newcomer Wei Tang has the skin of fine porcelain and cetainly photographs well. The movie, at two and a half hours, is overlong by at least 45 minutes, and the ending, while handled nicely, is predictable about half-way through. This film sort of compliments Lee's underseen (and better) civil war tale RIDE WITH THE DEVIL; there's lots of good stuff buried under a lot of pretty window-dressing.