film review: Burlesque

The people behind Burlesque did at least a few things right. First, Cher has an amazing screen presence, and a way with dialogue that seems absolutely effortless. (I’ll admit, it takes some adjustment to accept her now-frozen face, but one either accepts Cher as it or not at all.) Then they hired Stanley Tucci to play her gay best friend and right-hand man, essentially reprising the role he essayed so well in The Devil Wears Prada. No matter—he brightens every scene he’s in, and delivers his lines with the panache of a true master. But these old pros have to swim up-tide against a screenplay that’s so hokey and weather-beaten you have to wonder how it got approved by a major studio.

Pop music star Christina Aguilera plays the wide-eyed girl from Iowa who comes to Los Angeles hoping to find her dream, and winds up in Cher’s Hollywood nightclub, called Burlesque. From the moment she sees the sexy women on stage, strutting their stuff, she knows that’s where she—

—belongs. She immediately makes friends with a bartender (Cam Gigandet) who recognizes a fellow hick in the big city, finagles her way into a job as bartender, and finally talks her way into an audition for Cher. One night, quite by accident, she gets her big break, etc, etc. Oh, yes—there’s also a handsome billionaire (Eric Dane) who’s trying to buy Cher’s club, but turns his attention instead to winning over the hot newcomer from the Midwest.

I hope I haven’t spoiled any of these plot points. Actually, they wouldn’t be so bothersome if the film had enough life and energy to overcome them. I found most of the production numbers flashy but routine, and once the film started focusing on solos for Aguilera I started to lose interest. I’ve never followed her career and would say she makes a good first impression, until the film shifts its emphasis to her almost exclusively and presents one solo showcase after another.

Another complaint: the wonderful Alan Cumming is in the cast, but his presumed role is now just a recurring bit part. Perhaps his presence, on top of Cher and Tucci, stole too much of the spotlight from Aguilera. In any case, it’s a shame to waste such a talent.

There’s no reason Burlesque couldn’t have been a better movie. Shortening it from two hours would have helped. If you’re going to ask us to invest in a tired storyline, at least keep things moving, but that’s a lesson that novice writer-director Steven Antin hasn’t learned. What starts out as an enjoyable piece of fluff turns tiresome, and that’s a shame.

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May 2024