How ironic. Michael Jackson is dead. But in “This Is It,” the filmed chronicle of rehearsals for shows that never happened, he finally gets his greatest wish granted: He’s a movie star (here’s THR’s review from Kirk Honeycutt).

“This Is It” is quite extraordinary. If there was any doubt that Michael was in control of the shows or his decisions, those fears are allayed here. Maybe he was sleeping 15 hours a day. But during these rehearsals, he couldn’t have been more focused or hardworking. It is truly amazing considering the last 16 years of total lunacy to see him so capable.

Director Kenny Ortega was smart in his edits. You see Michael almost from the beginning, dancing up a storm, singing without assistance vibrantly. True, he is very thin. But you also see that it’s a result of working out like crazy. Yes, he could have been five pounds heavier. But I dare anyone who sees this movie to try one of Michael’s moves.

“This Is It” is also notable for its emotional moments. At the end of a rehearsal of the Jackson 5 hit “I’ll Be There,” he calls out all of his brothers for a thank-you, as well as both parents. It’s a three-hanky moment. Some of his family will be embarrassed now about the way they’ve behaved.

One thing’s for sure: AEG spent a lot of money on this show. The production numbers are spectacular and sumptuous. “Smooth Criminal” is one of the standouts. The making of the “Thriller” number in 3D is remarkable.

And just wait ’til you see and hear him sing “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” and “The Way You Make Me Feel” as Michael sings the blues and teaches the musicians how to play his charts. “It needs more booty,” he tells a keyboard player trying to get the right sexiness.

Will “This Is It,” dedicated to Michael’s kids, be a hit? Let’s put it this way: I already want to see it again. The fans will see it five times. Expect Sony to extend this release. “This Is It” is the “Thriller” of the year.

As Michael himself says, it’s a great adventure.

For another take on the “This Is It” premiere on the West Coast, check out THR’s’Risky Business blog. Read the film review by THR chief film critic Kirk Honeycutt here.


Spike Lee was the first boldfaced name we saw wander into Theater 9 at the Regal E Walk tonight for “This Is It.” He had his kids with him. The rest of the A-list gang followed: Gayle King, Russell Simmons, Sherri Shepherd. Famed director Lasse Hallstrom brought his 14-year-old daughter. “Law & Order: SVU” star Tamara Tunie arrived with buddy Marva Hicks. Bob and Lynne Balaban took corner seats. Clive Davis snuck in with two lady friends at the last minute. Elsewhere in the room, DJ Cassidy – a wild Michael Jackson fan– was already thinking about queueing up for the midnight show. There were rare appearances by Ed and Annie Pressman, Johnny Pigozzi and Ken Sunshine. And these were just the people Peggy Siegal stocked Theatre 9 with — Bryan Bantry had his own gang in No. 8.

It was a far cry from the shallow nuttiness we watched on the screen from Hollywood. Leanza Cornett, once a Miss America, is no Katie Couric, that’s for sure. She looked at a loss as a gaggle of ferociously unimportant people filed by her: Jennifer Love Hewitt and her boyfriend, Jamie Kennedy; American Idols Adam Lambert and David Cook; a bewildered Paula Abdul. Nia Long. Will Smith was smart and didn’t go near her. Also seen on the red carpet: fake Jackson kid Omer Bhatti and his mom, Pia Bhatti, still looking for some spotlight. And then the Jackson brothers Marlon, Tito, and Jackie –– nice guys. They almost got to speak, but then Jermaine –resplendent in a blue magic carpet of a coat that looked like it was made by Persian Bob’s Cut Rate Carpets — horned in and started answering questions. The other brothers barely looked at him. In the background was a guy known only as Raffles, a Joe Jackson lackey with a sketchy history who skipped his usual yellow jacket full of black question marks. The whole thing was summed up in its total lack of importance by Cornett interviewing Mary Hart. All they were missing was Bubbles the Chimp…

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Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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