Dreamgirls Bill Condon

It’s been a long time since a big, brassy musical blew through town, and compared to the execrable Chicago, Dreamgirls has power in spades. Not too much, mind you — director Bill Condon isn’t really prepared for the complexities of the narrative, which condenses two decades of black history and popular culture in ways it would take a sharper director to handle properly. Still, its story of a ’60s girl group (large and loud Jennifer Hudson, ever-excitable Akina Noni Rose, shy and retiring Beyonce Knowles) is just serious enough to keep its colour and flash from turning entirely frivolous.

Buoyed by the rise of Berry Gordy-ish mogul Jamie Foxx and his manipulative machinations, the group not only rockets to the top of the charts but finds its line-up changed by their business master and the untimely exit of Hudson and her potent voice. Though Beyonce gets top billing, the movie is more about Hudson’s betrayal and fall into obscurity; rest assured, it’s her powerful pipes you’ll be remembering when you think back to your favourite moments. And as a womanising singer whose backup voices usurp him, Eddie Murphy makes some moments his own.

However, there are times when Condon doesn’t get this whole musical thing — he often interrupts songs for plot points, a gag that gets rather frustrating as the film progresses. But for the most part, it’s a bright, colourful musical with good songs and good people singing them. The film won’t challenge your intelligence, but it won’t insult it either; it’s not the last word on its subject but one hell of an entertaining intro. Dreamgirls opens December 22. (Paramount)