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All that glitters isn't gold

Moulin Rouge hits mostly low notes

Moulin Rouge has all the ingredients for disappointing fare -- summer-blockbuster hype, MTV videos, and big-budget actors mixed in with bad singing and a melodramatic storyline. Baz Luhrmann, the down under director of Romeo and Juliet and Strictly Ballroom, must have been indulging in some absinthe when he came up with the concept for this movie. Nicole Kidman (who's as cold and icy as ever, despite her efforts at portraying warmth) plays Satine, the Sparkling Diamond, the star of the seedy nightclub Moulin Rouge (an actual historical hot spot) in the oh-so bo-ho Montmarte section of Paris. It's 1889, the "Summer of Love", as the British ex-pat and wannabe poet Christian (Ewan McGregor) eloquently describes it.

The young chap is befriended by the artist Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo, the only truly talented actor in the whole movie) who recruits him to write the script for his musical "Spectacular, Spectacular," the basis of which is the so-called Bohemian Revolution, its main tenets consisting of love, beauty and alcohol. However, this all changes when Satine, the lead actress, becomes entangled with The Duke of Monroth (Richard Roxburgh depicting the villain with a Gary Oldman-esque insanity), the club's main investor. Satine, Christian and the Duke become entangled in a sinister threesome in which the men do a whole lot of whining, she preens and they all sing pop songs.

My father is completely tone deaf. But he enjoys singing and really gets into it, so I give him props. However, I wouldn't pay $8.50 to hear him croon; I wouldn't shell out my hard-earned bucks to hear any tone-deaf person sing, I don't care how good looking People Magazine thinks they are. Actor Ewan McGregor's voice rivals that of my dad; that boy needs to have a serious talk with his agent. Nonetheless, for some reason unbeknownst to the general public, they gave him the part in this musical, and it was a mistake. Not only is his character, Christian, a pathetic sap who uses the word "love" as aimlessly and frequently as the article "the", but he also sings bad ballads from the late seventies and eighties. At one point Satine sings to him, "You would think people would have had enough of silly love songs..." I would like to second that motion. By the end, you'll just want him to shut the hell up.

At least Kidman makes you care about her character; she does a pretty good job at comedy and also brings a sense of depth to her tragic situation. In one scene, when she first meets Christian inside her room, Kidman skillfully overacts with the slapstick precision of a "Three's Company" episode.

The club's owner, Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent) and Toulouse-Lautrec glue the whole cast together. Broadbent reveals his diverse talent when he breaks into a hearty rendition of "Like a Virgin" and when he has intimate, emotional heart-to-hearts with Satine. Unfortunately, we don't see enough of the famous, alcoholic artist Lautrec.

There's a whole lot of music in the film instead. Luhrmann pays homage to everyone from The Sound of Music and Whitney Houston to Nirvana and Gloria Estefan. But the haphazard delivery of covers of random Top 40 hits isn't very impressive -- I can do that by myself in the shower. What the movie lacks in plot and vocal faculty, it tries to make up for in set design and mood. The sets are lush and fantastical; they sparkle like a fairy tale, complete with a jolly man in the moon. Luhrmann's swift direction and hyper
edits create an atmosphere of chaos, which gives you much more of a sense of the antics at the Moulin Rouge.

The most powerful scenes are those in which the camera slows down and everything quiets. This is when Kidman and the story really get to you; you feel for her and you become--for one tiny moment--a part of the movie. It's a shame that most of the time you are being distracted by songs about diamonds, love and other such nonsense. Ironically, Moulin Rouge is no gem; just a lot of glitter.

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Moulin Rouge
Rated PG
1 hour 43 minutes

Ewan McGregor
Nicole Kidman
John Leguizamo
Jim Broadbent