Considering that I own (and quite proudly, I might add) a deluxe, special edition DVD box set of Paul Verhoeven’s jaw-droppingly awful masterpiece, “Showgirls,” it stands to reason that I would be the target audience for “Burlesque,” starring the one-two punch of Cher and Christina Aguilera.
The two movies share a similar plot point to get the story moving: the ambitious young woman who needs to break out of her small-town shackles, move to the big city where she’ll be discovered and become a star.
In “Burlesque,” our heroine is Ali (Aguilera), who knows she has the moves and the pipes to set the world ablaze, but, just like all of us poor schmucks who come to Hollywood, she finds out that reality can be harsh. After a hard day of circling casting notices in “BackStage West,” Ali is just bushed! She wanders the streets of LA in an existential funk, until she spies a naughty little club tucked away on the Sunset Strip.
Spending her last $20 on admission, she finds herself in “Burlesque.” How do we know she’s in “Burlesque?” Simple. She arrives just in time to see Cher sing the song “Welcome to Burlesque!” surrounded by a number of “Dancing with the Stars” girls performing sad parodies of Bob Fosse Cabaret-style choreography.
Just like that, Ali knows she’s found her bliss. After making flirty-eyes at Jack, the cute bartender (Cam Gigandet), she makes herself at home as a cocktail waitress and waits for her big chance to audition for Tess (Cher), the owner.
There isn’t a plot twist you won’t see coming three miles away in this strictly by-the-numbers showbiz musical. There’s some hoo-haw about saving the club from financial ruin, backstage bitchiness between dueling divas (Kristin Bell fails to register as the club’s resident prima donna), and romance between Ali and Jack. Prepare yourself to groan loudly throughout!
Somehow, though, “Burlesque” manages to be pretty entertaining.
All of the performers are up to the task, and it’s great to see Cher back on screen. Her scenes with Stanley Tucci (slumming it in full-on “Devil Wears Prada” mode) are quite fun, and the musical numbers, while completely derivative of other, better musicals, nonetheless have a lot of energy. There’s no question that Christina Aguilera can sing, and her talent is on full display here. While no great shakes as an actress, she manages to hold her own in the dramatic stuff, and blows everyone off the screen when she sings.
Sadly, writer/director Steven Antin fails to let this material get away from him, which could have taken “Burlesque” into some truly amazing territory. There’s a tameness to the film that keeps it from being the camp masterpiece it desperately wants to be. The villains are soggy, the stakes aren’t that high, the musical numbers a tad too tasteful and innocent.
The reason that “Showgirls” has grown in stature throughout the years is because of the sheer naked (literal and figurative) balls-out ferocity of the direction and performances.
“Burlesque” is too much of a tease to make us feel naughty watching it.
BURLESQUE – Director/Screenwriter: Steven Antin; STARS: Cher, Christina Aguilera, Stanley Tucci. Rated PG-13.