First time feature film writer/director Steve Antin is way out of his league trying to put together a Bob Fosse-esque tribute to all things burlesque. The dialogue is ridiculous, the story of a small-town girl not only conquering the big city but saving the day is uninspired, and Cher's best asset - her voice - is under-utilized. And why is it that in scenes in which two or three characters are standing around simply talking, the camera work has to be handheld and shaky? It's a very bad, distracting decision as shots of Cher's head move up and down from corner to corner of the frame. When you hear an audience say "whoa" out loud during a quiet scene, it's an obvious - and avoidable - misstep.
Burlesque also suffers from a lack of memorable songs. They're catchy enough while they're onscreen, but ultimately they're completely forgettable. And who decided hiring Cher and letting her sing just two songs, and not even a single duet with Aguilera, was a good idea?
The StoryAli (Aguilera) has big dreams and nothing's going to stop her from pursuing them, not even annoying background music or a poorly written exchange with a fellow waitress at her small-town restaurant job. After being stuck for her entire life without anyone telling her to go for it, she decides enough is enough, packs a suitcase and heads to the West Coast. Ali doesn't have a plan but she does possess a lucky rabbit's foot or has made a deal with the devil because right after arriving in LA, she stumbles upon the Burlesque Lounge, talks her way into a waitressing job, and manages to get an affordable apartment in LA within walking distance of Sunset Blvd. The small-town girl is now all set to make it big if only someone would let her put down her serving tray and get up on that stage!
But wait, remember Ali? She's got a huge voice and is just dying for a chance to show it off. Of course that opportunity arises at the most opportune time, courtesy of an act of sabotage perpetrated by the club's bitchy lead dancer (Kristen Bell). The canned music is shut off and it's up to Ali to save the show, busting out with a vocal performance the likes of which have never been heard before in the history of the universe. Or at least that's how everyone in attendance reacts.
Ali's a star and Tess knows it, but how will that save the Burlesque Lounge? And more importantly, will Ali wind up with the shirtless, mascara-wearing, guyliner loving bartender, Jack (Cam Gigandet), or will she decide to be with the billionaire real estate hunk who offers her the world and has a mansion with the second best view in all of Los Angeles? Let's see...Jack has a heart of gold although he's engaged to an actress (played in the briefest of cameos by Glee's Dianna Agron) who's in New York trying to further her career. Marcus has everything including good looks, money, intelligence, and a sense of humor. Is there even a choice? Not in this film full of the most tried and true film clichés.
The ActingCher has two show-stopping numbers, and only one of those is really necessary to the plot. Her second ballad is just inserted to show off her voice and not to advance the story. It's as though they were in the middle of shooting when all of a sudden they remembered they'd hired Cher and only used her for one song. But, as I said earlier, the plot isn't anything you need to pay attention to anyway. And while it's great to see her on the big screen again, never once did I forget I was looking at the latest version of Cher. Tess? No, she never became Tess. It was always Cher.
Aguilera has a tremendous voice and when she's working her way through the numerous musical numbers, she's terrific. Acting-wise, it's hard to say as it would have been difficult for even the most seasoned of actors to make much out of this role.
Supporting players are marginalized to the point of being completely unnecessary. Alan Cumming is in the film as the lounge's doorman, but is given zero to do. Kristen Bell as the club's problem child fares slightly better, though I'm going to wager most of her work is on the cutting room floor. The same goes for Julianne Hough, the ex-Dancing with the Stars standout who's making her movie debut with this musical. Hough plays a sweet dancer who gets pregnant, looks to be about seven months along at one point, gets married, and is mysteriously back to having a flat stomach all in the course of a couple weeks. It's just bizarre, but not Hough's fault. Cam Gigandet does his best to make the character of Aguilera's love interest more than just a pretty boy, and the fact he succeeds at all is a miracle as underwritten as all the supporting players are.
The Bottom LineBurlesque comes nowhere near the level of other musicals from the past decade and instead is just a poor imitation of better work. Antin may have had a good idea in uniting Cher and Aguilera for a feature film, but he's not yet up to the task of writing and directing a full-length film.
In more skilled hands, Burlesque might have been a lot of fun. It had the potential to be a campy extravaganza with dazzling dance numbers and music superstars in the lead roles. Sadly, Burlesque - as campy as it is - isn't even campy enough to make it a guilty pleasure type of movie. Aguilera's voice can only carry a movie so far, and Burlesque has nothing to fall back on once the novelty of watching her tear through numbers wears off.
Burlesque was directed by Steve Antin and is rated PG-13 for sexual content including several suggestive dance routines, partial nudity, language and some thematic material.
Theatrical Release: November 24, 2010