Movie Review: ’Burlesque’ shakes, shimmies, doesn’t stir
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before.
A small-town girl with big dreams and a big voice packs up everything she owns in a suitcase, makes her way to Hollywood and wows the world with her talent. But not everyone has her best interest at heart, so she’ll have to cling tight to her values to figure out whom she should trust. And she’ll do it ... in song!
Yes, they should provide a cliche checklist at the door of “Burlesque,” just to make it interactive and help pass the time.
Sure, this song-and-dance extravaganza is sufficiently shiny and sparkly, an explosion of sequins and feathers and sass. Writer-director Steven Antin is the brother of Pussycat Dolls creator Robin Antin, so there’s a certain familiarity to the bump-and-grind numbers the dancers perform. The mere presence of Cher guarantees a high camp factor; at a recent screening, the first sight of her on stage in all her sailor-hatted, Plasticine glory drew appreciative laughs and applause from the audience.
Although “Burlesque” is never the juicy diva smackdown of “Showgirls,” to which comparisons are inevitable, it’s good enough as a guilty pleasure, simply because it’s all splash and no substance. It’s also a shameless vehicle for Christina Aguilera, trying to position herself as an actress in her film debut, even though she’s essentially playing a version of herself. She can really sing, of course — one character aptly describes her as having “mutant lungs” — and she looks great on camera, but the performance is all one note otherwise, if you’ll pardon the pun.
And while we’re comparing “Burlesque” to trash of the past, it isn’t the abject failure that Mariah Carey’s similar “Glitter” was, but that’s mainly because it has better production values.
Aguilera’s romantically named Ali Rose is bathed in warm, golden light wherever she goes. This includes the opening sequence in which she leaves the dingy Iowa diner where she works as a waitress (but not without belting out a bluesy tune first), gathers her meager belongings, traipses through the trailer park she’s called home, then crosses a railroad bridge and steps through a hole in a chain-link fence en route to the bus station.
Once in Los Angeles, she literally stands on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, holding a list of want ads for backup singers and dancers. Then she stumbles upon The Burlesque Lounge on Sunset Boulevard, an aging theater where the ageless Cher rules as the proprietress and headliner, Tess. Ali’s hooked the second she walks in the door, and insinuates herself from cocktail waitress to backup dancer to featured star in the blink of an eye. (Alan Cumming is depressingly underused as the lounge’s host, in a halfhearted nod to “Cabaret.”)
From there, the rest of “Burlesque” plays like an extended version of the “Lady Marmalade” video, with a few contrivances to provide vague conflict. There’s never a doubt that the plucky, determined Ali will win over Tess and her obligatory best gay pal, stage manager Sean (Stanley Tucci, who has an effortless rapport with Cher). When jealous bad-girl Nikki (Kristen Bell) threatens to stand in the way of her fame, we know Ali will triumph anyway. When Tess is on the verge of eviction, we know she won’t have to sell the place to a predatory real estate entrepreneur (Eric Dane).
And when Ali meets eyelinered bartender Jack (“Twilight’s” Cam Gigandet), who’s really a sensitive, aspiring musician, it’s only a matter of time before they fall for each other — in chaste, tastefully lighted love scenes, of course.
“Burlesque,” a Sony Screen Gems release, is rated PG-13 for sexual content including several suggestive dance routines, partial nudity, language and some thematic material. Running time: 116 minutes. Two stars out of four.