“BURLESQUE”…AND YET NOTHING LIKE BURLESQUE…
Review by Mark Tucci
“Burlesque” is the latest in a long line of movie musicals that proves Hollywood takes one successful idea and beats it into the ground until there’s nothing good left. From sci-fi to horror to romantic comedies and now musicals, the factory-like assembly line of bandwagon films capitalizing on prior successful ones never stops. “Burlesque” is the Frankenstein’s monster of recent movie musicals, pulling parts from a dozen other better and more entertaining films and assembling them into an ugly mess that stomps around on screen for 119 minutes.
You know you’re in trouble when the very first scene opens with laughably cliched lines of dialogue and quickly spirals downward from there.
The film stars a polished and airbrushed-looking Christina Aguilera in her first big film role. She plays opposite Cher, whose aging and over-made-up appearance make her look more like someone in drag pretending to be Cher than the actual Cher you may remember.
Stanley Tucci, Peter Gallagher, Alan Cumming and Kristen Bell round out the cast.
The movie’s plot is as familiar as bread and butter, using just about every conventional backstage story element that you can think of. Doe-eyed, innocent mid-western girl quits her job, leaves her small town and travels to LA to make it big in show business. Upon discovering the wonder of an aging burlesque review theater, she vows to one day get up on that stage and be somebody. Despite dealing with the jealous rivalry of the show’s current star, she subsequently falls in love with a shy bartender while helping her new friends save the venue from bank foreclosure and the evil contractor who wants to tear it all down and build a condo.
It’s “Coyote Ugly” with a bigger bar. It’s “Showgirls” without the nudity. It’s “Breakin’ 2” without the electric boogaloo. It’s a scene from just about every other show business movie that’s come before.
So aside from the retread of a retread of a retread of a story, what else was there? Well, there was Christina Aguilera doing what she does best: singing. If the film had anything worth watching it was her song performances, maybe. She looked great and can certainly belt out the tunes, which was probably why she had the most numbers. In a film with not much story going for it, having her sing for another five minutes was a good time filler.
Cher had some moments as well, and her opening performance number, Welcome to Burlesque in the film is good. It also fit well within the confines of what little story there was at that point, but her second show piece, You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me Yet, seemed like it was shoehorned in. It felt tacked on and deliberate, like some producer’s attempt at Oscar bait for best song. All that was missing was a shameless graphic plug appearing beneath the clip like a gag from “Wayne’s World”.
I understand that this movie isn’t based on an original musical the way “Chicago” or “Nine” or “Harispray” or “Mamma Mia”, or “The Producers”, or “Sweeney Todd”, or “Rent” were, but come on, you’ve got Christina Aguilera and Cher in your cast. You mean to tell me that they couldn’t write enough songs to fill out the movie without having to resort to cheesy montages set to Madonna’s Ray of Light?
So the story wasn’t good, the musical performances were okay though they didn’t all seem to fit, but what about the dancing? Well, for a movie named “Burlesque”, there was very little actual burlesque dancing involved. The dancing that was there was good and the choreography was entertaining (when you could actually focus on it through all the editing and camera moves), but if you’re hoping to see true burlesque routines think again. Aside from one fleeting moment at the end of one musical number, nary will you find anything that resembles the true spirit of the burlesque routine. I live in Seattle where real burlesque is performed almost daily. I’ve seen the Atomic Bombshells strut their stuff many times and have enjoyed routines from Miss Indigo Blue and Kitten La Rue as well as Inga Ingenue and even Dita Von Teese. Trust me, I know real burlesque, and there was none of it here. So if you go into this movie with the hopes of seeing a scantily-clad Aguilera stripping down to pasties doing a seductive bump and grind tease, you’re in for a real let-down. This film can’t even get its title right.
Okay then, so what about the performances? There certainly are some good actors in this film, right? Yes, and it’s too bad they were all totally wasted.
Peter Gallagher and Alan Cumming are drastically underused in this film, deserving much better than relegation to background and inane sub-plots. I wondered how much of their roles were left on the cutting room floor, especially Cumming’s, who barely had any screen time at all. I can only imagine they saw the dailies and decided it would be better to remove themselves as much as possible from this disaster.
A dark-haired Kristen Bell channels Parker Posey while playing the Gina Gershon role of workplace rival. It was a predictable one-note performance all the way through that added little to the film. Stanley Tucci, who is a fine actor, phones in the same performance he gave in “The Devil Wears Prada”. He’s more than capable in this role, but covers familiar ground and can simply add his name to the list of others in this movie that should probably have passed on the script.
It’s hard to judge Aguilera’s acting performance. Her lines were so bad and so formulaic that I was often saying them to myself before I heard her utter them on screen. But rest assured, she wasn’t hired to be an actress in this movie. And Cher? Well, she tried, but there’s only so much you can do with this material.
So what was there to like in this film then? Sadly, the only redeeming elements were the few original songs, of which only three really stood out: Welcome to Burlesque by Cher, and Express and Show Me How You Burlesque by Auguilera. Save $7 bucks on the movie ticket and go buy these three songs from iTunes instead. You’ll probably get just as much entertainment and at least you can listen to the songs more than once.
Directed by: Steve Antin
Release Date: November 24, 2010
Run Time: 119 Minutes
Distributor: DeLine Pictures