A dazzling and yet frequently maddening bid to bring the movie musical kicking and screaming into the 21st century, Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge bears no relation to the many previous films set in the famous Parisian nightclub. This may appear to be Paris in the 1890s, with can-can dancers, bohemian denizens like Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo), and ribaldry at every turn, but it's really Luhrmann's pop-cultural wonderland.
Everyone and everything is encouraged to shatter boundaries of time and texture, colliding and careening in a fast-cutting frenzy that thinks nothing of casting Elton John's "Your Song" 80 years before its time. Nothing is original in this kaleidoscopic, absinthe-inspired love tragedy--the words, the music, it's all been heard before. But when filtered through Luhrmann's love for pop songs and timeless showmanship, you're reminded of the cinema's power to renew itself while paying homage to its past. Luhrmann's overall success with his third "red-curtain" extravaganza (following Strictly Ballroom and William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet) is wildly debatable the scenario is simple to the point of silliness, and how can you appreciate choreography when it's been diced into hash by attention-deficit editing? Still, there's something genuine brewing between costars Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman (as, respectively, a poor writer and his unobtainable object of desire), and their vocal talents are impressive enough to match Luhrmann's orgy of extraordinary sets, costumes, and digital wizardry. The movie's novelty may wear thin, along with its shallow indulgence of a marketable soundtrack, but Luhrmann's inventiveness yields moments that border on ecstasy, when sound and vision point the way to a moribund genre's joyously welcomed revival. --Jeff Shannon
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