‘Burlesque’ good, campy fun
BURLESQUEStarring Cher, Christina Aguilera
Directed by Steve Antin
Those hoping for an epic Showgirls-meets-Glitter type of flop can move along. Like Cher herself, Burlesque is Teflon-smooth, buffed to a shine, and compelling beyond reason.
Fresh out of Iowa, Ali (Christina Aguilera) is a wannabe singer-dancer looking for her big break in L.A. Wide-eyed, she stumbles into the Burlesque Lounge, a financially troubled club owned by Tess (Cher). Ali talks her way into a job, and eventually moves into the spotlight, bumping out bitchy lead dancer Nikki (Kristen Bell). When Ali finally gets the chance to belt out her own song (rather than lip-sync like the others), a star is born.
Aguilera acquits herself well enough, particularly compared to the woefully miscast Bell. Cher is also well-served — and is obviously well-preserved. Her Tess looks barely 10 years older than Aguilera’s Ali, despite the real-life 30-odd years’ difference between them. The drawback, though, is that her face can’t register emotion, which is especially problematic when she acts opposite the great Stanley Tucci, who gets some fun moments as Sean, Tess’s longtime friend and stage manager.
Burlesque is director Steve Antin’s first major feature, and he also wrote it. He fares better as a director than as a writer: Some of the dance sequences are fantastic, while others are merely fun punctuation marks that relieve the often terrible dialogue. The plot is formulaic and chock full of contrivances, but Antin does one thing that feels almost revelatory: Ali wants to be on stage, so she doesn’t just practice her dancing — she studies the history of burlesque. It’s a short scene, but she reads. Moments like this ground Ali’s ambition in reality, even if Burlesque never goes more than skin deep. —Andrea Warner