© 2010 Ray Wong
As a friend of mine said, Burlesque is just like Showgirl with a simpler plot, better songs, and Cher. In other words, it's only slightly better.
Ali (Christina Aguilera) is a girl from a small Iowa town who dreams to be singer, so she packs for a one way trip to Los Angeles. After a few weeks of trying to break into the business, she comes across a Burlesque lounge on the Sunset Strip. Lured by the glamor and also trying to convince Tess (Cher) -- owner of the club--Ali befriends bartender Jack (Cam Gigandet) and gets a job as a waitress.
After her apartment is broken in and all her money is stolen, she begs to stay at Jack's place, thinking he's gay. Well, what do you know? He's not, but instead engaged to an actress who is, rather conveniently, living and working in New York. As their attraction to each other grows stronger, Ali also succeeds in convincing Tess to give her a spot on stage. While Ali isn't the strongest dancer, she has drive and she wants it bad; and Tess likes that, because Ali reminds Tess of her younger self.
Meanwhile, Tess is on the verge of losing her club because she can't pay the mortgage, and real estate developer Marcus (Eric Dane) wants to buy it so he can build a high-rise apartment. When Tess finds out Ali can sing, she builds her shows around Ali. Marcus begins to court Ali, and she accepts because he can make things happen for her, and clearly Jack isn't "available." Then everything changes and Ali must choose between her future and the people she's grown to love.
Cher (Stuck on You) hasn't been on the silver screen since 2003, and her performance as Mama Tess is welcome. The role is tailor-made for her, and fans of Cher would not be disappointed (except she should sing two more songs while Aguilera should sing two fewer). It's amazing how in the soft glow of movie lights and under the thick layers of cosmetics (not to mention plastic surgeries, but we won't go there), Cher looks like she did 25 years ago.
Christina Aguilera's debut goes much better than Britney Spears', partially because Aguilera is a much better actress and singer. Also, she's found a perfect movie for herself. Playing the ingenue is second-nature to the pop superstar, and the musical materials showcase her powerhouse voice, range, and… damn, isn't she attractive? But don't expect an Oscar for the star -- while her performance is fine for a debut, she has nothing on Justin Timberlake.
The male-dominated supporting cast is okay. Cam Gigandet (Easy A) is quickly becoming the It Boy what with his smoldering good looks and model body (and he shows it off a lot). His performance stills lacks certain finesse and range, however. Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones) is, as usual, wonderful as Tess's assistant, but I can't help but think he's playing the same role as he did in The Devil Wears Prada. Exactly the same. Alan Cumming (The Tempest) has practically nothing to do, unfortunately, and Peter Gallagher (The War Boys) has only a slightly better role as Tess's constantly constipated ex-husband and business partner. Kristen Bell (When in Rome) has one of the few female roles (which is ironic, as the film is about Burlesque dancers), and her "vixen" is a bit on the one-dimensional side.
Written and directed by Steve Antin (Gloria) is not new to the business, but as a screenwriter/director, he is still rather green. Burlesque is an odd, ironically old-fashioned concept -- seriously, who still go to see Burlesque these days? The screenplay is riddled with cliches, from the rags-to-riches story to the cockeyed romance, from the wise matron to the conniving vixen, from the boy toy to the suave suitor… you name it, you have it. Plenty of plot holes to go around, too. For example, if Ali is so great (and she is!), why would she still be singing at a Burlesque club? She'd be snatched up by a major talent agent and record label already.
The dialogue is suitably cheesy. What is unintentional, however, is how cheesy and funny some "dramatic" scenes turn out to be. For example, right in the middle of a dramatic "heart to heart" scene between Cher and Aguilera, the audience broke out laughing. Certainly I don't think Antin expected that. The plot is cheese, of course, but I admire that Antin tries to stay simple.
The production is somewhat on the cheap side, considering much of it was filmed on a sound stage. The musical numbers are fine: well choreographed and performed. They are entertaining and reminded me of Chicago. But like I said, Cher should have sung two more songs, while Aguilera has one or two too many. It gets rather tiring to hear her sing every damn song. We need some variety.
Burlesque is not a disaster per se, but it's not great either. It's like Chicago's ugly little sister, and she's so ugly she's kind of cute. I suppose, in some ways, it's fitting because the movie isn't called Broadway, but Burlesque.
Stars: Cher, Christina Aguilera, Eric Dane, Cam Gigandet, Stanley Tucci, Kristen Bell, Alan Cumming, Peter Gallagher
Director: Steve Antin
Writers: Steve Antin
Distributor: Screen Gems
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content including several suggestive dance routines, partial nudity, language and some thematic material
Running Time: 100 minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 7.2 out of 10