Review: Burlesque Never Quite Gets There

Review Burlesque Never Quite Gets There

In the grand tradition of Chicago , Evita , and Showgirls comes the story of a small-town girl with big-city dreams. There will be tears, there will be dancing, and voila! What we have here is Burlesque , Christina Aguilera ’s acting debut, the big-screen return of Cher , and a new attempt at an old genre standby: the sexy dance film. If all goes well, plot should play second fiddle to sassy songs and suggestive dancing.

Christina Aguilera is Ali, a young dancer and singer who makes her way toward Los Angeles and potential fame. Tess (Cher) is the owner of a burlesque nightclub that hasn’t been able to keep up on the mortgage. With financial ruin pending, Tess gives Ali the chance she’s been waiting for, and everyone is amazed at her natural talents. Caught between a handsome Realtor (Eric Dane) and a friendly bartender musician (Cam Gigandet), Ali must stay true to herself and live the life she's always dreamed of.

With hints of Moulin Rouge around the edges but without any of the grace, Burlesque pretty much has one job to do: show us some singin’ and some dancin’. As a dance film it certainly delivers a few great numbers. Fans of Dancing With the Stars ’ Julianne Hough will find her in great abundance as the beautiful Georgia, though perhaps not used as much as she might have been. Hough seems such a natural choice for the role of jealous ousted star Nikki (played with overwrought abandon by the feisty Kristen Bell) that it’s confusing that she wasn’t given the larger role. Bell is perfunctory, her talents wasted on a script that has her playing drunk and envious for most of the film.

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As I mentioned, plot isn’t the strong suit of Burlesque , and it's hard to care about a single character. The film is filled with many cringe-worthy moments as far as acting and script are concerned, with several idioms and tropes being repeated at least twice -- if not more times. My favorite misstep peddled as wisdom is Cher’s line: When you are putting on your makeup, it's like you're an artist, but instead of painting a canvas, you're painting your face. The sheer idiocy of that line cannot be overstated. Meditate upon it in your hearts and go forth into the world. The film is set in Los Angeles on the Sunset Strip, but the city isn’t really given any kind of fair treatment, existing only as a place where dreams come true. As I watched these women cavort and strut, over and over the phrase Pussy Cat Dolls: The Movie! ran through my head and for good reason: director/writer Steven Antin is the brother of Robin Antin, the human directly responsible for the existence of the aforementioned Dolls.

Aguilera’s performance is her first as an actress and I can only assume she thinks she is doing a subtle job of portraying Ali’s naivety and clumsy efforts toward success. Her portrayal of Ali can only generously be described as one-dimensional. In the time-honored tradition of singers trying to act, and actors trying to sing, Aguilera should stick to what she knows best: mopping the floor with her low range and busting the ceiling with her spine-tingling high notes. While her dance sequences ooze feminine charm and sexual power, when she’s not dancing, Ali has none of the bone-breaking intensity of Elizabeth Berkeley in Showgirls , none of the meticulous conniving of Madonna in Evita , and none of the glamor of anyone in Chicago or Moulin Rouge .

Cher has spent some 11 years away from the big screen, with only a small turn in a Farrelly brothers’ movie during that time. (At age 64, Cher is looking more and more like L.A. Ink ’s Kat Von D; I realize this is neither here nor there but the resemblance is uncanny.) Her vocals and performance were good but not great. Special consideration and points must be given for the 'But I’m a Good Girl' routine performed by Aguilera, which is absolutely beautifully shot, costumed, and sung. Stanley Tucci, as Tess’ right-hand man, can do no wrong and does his absolute best to keep this Zeppelin of a film from catching fire and smoldering to the ocean of schmaltz, but even his charm and subtlety are hard-pressed to counteract the hair-tossing and flashing eyes of Cher and Aguilera.

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Keeping in mind that the entire film is essentially an extended music video-type vehicle for Christina Aguilera to wow us with her singing chops, Burlesque aims for classy and hits somewhere around inoffensive. If you like dancing, or like Christina Aguilera or Cher, you’re going to enjoy the film, and I suspect if you’ve been planning to see it you already know what to expect. All in all, the final product was eerily close to my earlier dissection of the trailer . The plot only distracts from the dancing which is plentiful but leaves you wanting more. At best it is a fairly run-of-the-mill dance film, and at worst a mediocre mishmash of genre conventions. In the future, let’s get less plot and more high kicks please.

Grade: C+