After I saw Burlesque (opening Nov. 24) last week, a bunch of my friends asked, “So, was it a train wreck?” I think it’s telling that’s their first question but the answer is: It’s not Showgirls but it’s no Chicago, either.
Christina Aguilera makes her acting debut as Ali, a girl from Iowa whose life is so bleak she has nothing to lose by heading to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams of being a singer. But she can’t even land a gig as a backup vocalist (?!) and, after stumbling upon a burlesque club one night, decides she wants to work there. She starts out as a waitress but her talent cannot be denied as she slowly convinces the club owner, Tess (Cher), that she’s worthy of not only performing in the shows but perhaps even starring in them.
As her star rises at the club, two men vie for Ali’s attention—Jack (Cam Gigandet), the cute bartender/aspiring musician/Ali’s engaged roommate, and Marcus (Eric Dane), a rich real estate developer who has the means and connections to help Ali get ahead. Marcus is also putting pressure on Tess, who faces losing the club due to money problems, to sell it to him so he can demolish it and build a high-rise with a view. Ali finally comes up with a clever way to help Tess and get both women what they want.
Now that you’ve read the synopsis, you can just forget about it because it doesn’t matter much. This is a pretty standard Cinderella story and the movie’s highlights are the musical numbers, not what happens in between them. Director Steven Antin stages them with energy and style and the numbers are fun and sexy without being smutty. Ali seems to lose her clothes altogether during one song but her bits are coyly hidden behind giant feathered fans and the microphone.
Aguilera’s acting is neither atrocious nor great; she has a few unconvincing line readings—to be fair, some of the dialogue is super corny—but she’s perky and pretty to look at. The wig she wears for most of the movie is a bit distracting because it’s obviously fake and I’m not sure why she needs it. Doesn’t she have nice real hair? I also find it unnecessary for her to do that overwrought throat-clearing kind of singing and run every note through twenty-seven octaves. There’s no doubt she has an impressive voice; it’s sometimes much more effective when she uses it softly, letting the emotion behind the words do the heavy lifting.
As for Cher, her presence and spunk are intact but it’s disconcerting when her face remains exactly the same whether Tess is defiant or frustrated or wistful. I’ve liked her acting work in the past but all the plastic surgery is now getting in her way. Stanley Tucci is charming as Tess’s gay confidante and the club’s jack of all trades; he has a way of making even throwaway lines funny. But if you get the feeling you’ve seen his performance before, you have, in The Devil Wears Prada. Gigandet is serviceable as the love interest and Dane doesn’t stray far from his Grey’s Anatomy gig as the suave playboy.
Chances are you’ve already decided whether or not you’ll see this movie but in case you’re still undecided, here’s the final breakdown: If you love Cher, Xtina, musicals and Gigandet (he has a nude scene, showing everything except his, ah, instrument), you’ll have a good time. Not so hot for any of the above? You can probably wait for cable.
Nerd verdict: Fans of Cher & Xtina will want to Burlesque
Photos by Steven Vaughan © Screen Gems