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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Glee' movie sings songs of success

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

GLEE: THE 3-D CONCERT MOVIE

(PG)

3 out of 4 stars

If you, like many of us have never seen an episode of "Glee" and never intend to, take note. It is one of those rare TV shows that is popular beyond its cult loyalists, critically acclaimed and has been showered with multiple industry awards. Even if you've never seen it you know what it's about. Not since "Seinfeld" has a fictional show left such an indelible mark on pop culture.

What's surprising about this concert movie is how long it took to get made. "Glee" is about to start its third season; this thing should have been ready to go at least a year ago, maybe two. Another big surprise -- it's not that bad.

Kevin Tancharoen -- a newcomer to the "Glee" fold -- does what any astute director would when presenting a popular brand in a different medium -- he acts as if the audience knows nothing of it going in. He doesn't provide back story for the characters because none is needed -- it's a concert film. He gives each of the dozen or so singers a solo (sometimes two) and each is handled with blazing efficiency. There's no on-stage chit-chat, no mindless banter with the audience or impromptu, dig-me showboating. Like the great rock and soul review shows of the '60s, it's all about the music.

When not on stage exhibiting great technical prowess and incorporating a multitude of effective camera angles, Tancharoen cuts to infrequent, fittingly brief backstage footage of the singers and devotes just enough time to the stories of four of devoted "Glee" fans. Two are now-out-of-the-closet teen boys, a lesbian with Asperger syndrome and the most atypical cheerleader you're every likely to see in a film of any kind. The singers give the movie its heart; these fans provide the soul.

Not all of it works. The majority of the songs have already been featured in various episodes of the show. Some fans may like this comfort food set list but the truly dedicated would probably have preferred a surprise or two. The preppy Blaine (Darren Criss) and his troupe of backing "warblers" perform three songs in a row which somewhat slows down the momentum and goes against the grain of what up to that portion of the film was a winning formula.

While guaranteed to please any heterosexual man who sees it, a racy performance by Brittany (Heather Morris) far exceeds the movie's PG rating and maybe even PG-13. Blessed with a perfect figure, Morris kicks, gyrates, shimmies, struts and shakes her money maker for all it's worth during a song called "Slave 4 U." All that's missing is a floor-to-ceiling pole. During a backstage clip before her number, Morris half-jokingly states she hopes the 3-D cameras will fully capture her best assets. Again, imitating Beyonce or Britney Spears is fine and dandy; just not within the confines of what is otherwise a squeaky-clean, family-friendly movie.

The main premise behind "Glee" is that outcasts and those unable to fit in with popular cliques have an outlet for self-expression -- which is commendable on every level. All too often our society puts too much emphasis on beauty and conformity. What's somewhat disheartening is that throughout the film, sound-bites captured outside the arena from passing fans and even some from the four featured teens too often include the word "loser" when they describe themselves. This is not good no matter what kind of insider/positive spin you'd like to put on it.

Is it by design or coincidence that the 90 degree thumb and forefinger to the forehead is both a (positive) unifying sign used by "gleeks" and the universal (derogatory) way to identify someone as a loser? If you are good at what you do or not good at something you truly love, you are not a loser. Someone needs to come up with a new "Glee" hand sign. (Fox)