“Michael Jackson’s This Is It” – 2 & ½ popcorns

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By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic

I’d be afraid to work for the King of Pop, even if I could sing and dance. Per “Michael Jackson’s This Is It,” the postmortem paean culled from rehearsal film by director Kenny Ortega, it looks too hard…all those steps. While we get no new skinny on Michael, this colorful peek into the precision he aspired to is sometimes a divulging testament in itself.

In comparison to the tabloid besmirching that became part and parcel of the controversial entertainer’s uniquely strange charisma, this footage will seem clinically sterile. Nope, we’re not taken behind the curtain that human nature would curiously wish. But it is revealed, rather ironically, just how much practice it takes to be truly mystifying.

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Expect no plot or story, except for what you might read into this well edited batch of recent remembrances as Mr. Jackson readies for his much anticipated, 50-date “This Is It” concert tour. Indeed, appearances are deceiving. A first impression is how well he looks. Credit an air of command and perfect posture for belying his only 5’10’’ frame.

Fact is, he’s a giant to the young hopefuls who, a la “Chorus Line,” pray that they’ll make the cut and become a part of what is then immediately touted as family. Kisses are blown and hugs gestured. Being a sycophant is A-OK. Of course this instant loyalty and reverence is more stage-speak than a reflection on Jackson’s management style.

But from what we are shown here, though it may be a bit of self-serving prestidigitation, it’s Kenny Ortega, the journeyman choreographer (“Dirty Dancing”) and concert tour director, who anticipates and relays his boss’ every creative desire. He appears in charge.

Only Kenny can exchange banter with Michael, and then it’s always about business.

So call us cynics. We know very well where the power lies and dare surmise that Jacko’s dictums to his concert guru are whispered off camera. Likewise, nothing of real pungency is exchanged between any of the documentary’s dramatis personae. And yet they’re all into the love. That’s right, it’s about the love, and the music, and the love.

Oh, and about the dancing, too…which, after all, is also about the love. One hesitates to opine it’s also about the Benjamins, as that might seem a bit Philistine considering the tireless dedication suffusing each frame. There’s no denying Jackson & Co. reach for every bit of creativity they can summon. The husbanding of talent is simply dazzling.

Assembled for the tour that, alas, never was, the troupe seems destined to become the song and dance counterpart of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, so great is their execution and attention to detail. Holding court on stage, MJ issues subtleties. Kenny interprets each nuance with a knowing nod. It seems so indiscernible, but not to them.

And that’s showbiz, Michael Jackson style.

Granted, MJ was a bona fide superstar, a class that, via some perverse sociology, has assumed status as America’s royalty. And this movie reaffirms his musical majesty, showing him at the top of his game. But without a little candid insight tossed into the entertaining but one-dimensional mix, “Michael Jackson’s This Is It” just isn’t all that.

“Michael Jackson’s This Is It,” rated PG, is a Columbia Pictures release directed by Kenny Ortega and stars Michael Jackson, Kenny Ortega and the “This Is It” concert troupe. Running time: 112 minutes


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