January 08, 2007 12:00 PM

Beyoncé Knowles, Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy

BY LEAH ROZEN

MUSICAL

Dreamgirls sets itself an ambitious goal: to show how black pop music began crossing over in the ’60s—often at a painful price. Singers who couldn’t or wouldn’t adopt a mainstream look and sound were often left by the wayside. The conflict plays out onscreen in the battle between malleable beauty Deena Jones (Knowles) and heavyset belter Effie White (Hudson), which parallels the smackdown between Diana Ross and original Supreme Florence Ballard.

Chicago (2002), whose screenplay was by Dreamgirls writer-director Bill Condon, set a high standard for movie musicals; despite pushing hard, Dreamgirls falls short. A handsomely produced version of the 1981 Broadway hit, it boasts moments that soar but others that stumble: The result is entertaining but uneven. Hudson (American Idol) and Murphy, playing an old-school R&B crooner, dazzle; Knowles is frustratingly inconsistent, and Foxx, as a music promoter, is uncharacteristically flat. (PG-13)

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