At one point in Burlesque, headliner Nikki (Kristen Bell) tells club owner Tess (Cher), “I will not be upstaged by some slut with mutant lungs.”
Sorry, sweetie. Meet Christina Aguilera.
From her powerhouse opening rendition of Etta James’ “Something’s Got a Hold On Me” to the big-time, glitz-and-glamour closing number, Burlesque is Christina’s show, and she (and her mutant lungs) deliver one pure, show-stopping performance after another. Make no mistake– Burlesque is very cheesy and occasionally silly, but it never really veers too far into ‘campy’ territory, and the end result is actually a lot of fun.
Aguilera plays Ali, a fresh-as-sweet-corn-in-July farmgirl who grabs her life’s savings and hops a bus for L.A. As she’s trolling the streets looking for work one night, she trips on the Burlesque Lounge, which advertises itself as “The Best View on the Sunset Strip Without Any Windows”. There’s no nudity here, though (Burlesque could have easily been PG but for the Victoria’s Secret-like outfits)– this is a respectable club; the first performance Ali sees features a conservatively-clad (and sixty-ish year old) Cher. Indeed, there will be no comparisons to the 90s campy classic Showgirls here.
Even though she’s told there are no dancer openings, our tenacious little go-getter doesn’t give up, grabbing a tray from bartender Jack (Cam Gigandet) and making her own job. Each night she studies the routines while delivering shots of Patrón, so then, when a spot finally does open up, she’s ready.
Yes, the story and dialogue of Burlesque are as trite as they come, and the characters (for the most part) are entirely one-dimensional, but heck– if you want a deep and complex movie about dancing, go see Black Swan next week. The whole point of Burlesque is to showcase Aguilera (and, to a lesser degree, Cher) without making you have to think… at all. And on that count, it succeeds in a big way.
Aguilera doesn’t exactly astound with her acting ability, but in all fairness, she doesn’t need to. She more than makes up for it whenever she takes the stage, which is early and often. Cher is firmly back after a too-long acting hiatus, and Stanley Tucci, as Sean, the genial stage manager, provides plenty of welcome levity.
First-time director and screenwriter Steve Antin (probably best known for playing the letter-jacketed Troy in The Goonies) must have had a ball putting Burlesque together. It often feels like a series of performances you’d see during Results Night on Dancing With the Stars or an extended Pussycat Dolls video (which is only fitting since Antin’s little sister Robin co-founded that group). Each of the dozen or so numbers is tightly choreographed, genuine toe-tapping fun, accented by absolutely fantastic costumes. The spotlights never dim, the sequins never stop twinkling, and the music is vintage radio-ready Aguilera, by way of a few ol’ standards.
All told, Burlesque is much closer to a death-free Moulin Rouge (remember Aguilera, et al’s “Lady Marmalade”?) than it is to Glitter. It may not be headed for Oscar glory, but Burlesque will become a mainstay on many people’s Guilty Pleasures lists quicker than you can say ‘Cher’.