In Theaters: Review of Burlesque

by | Nov 26th, 2010 | 1:46PM | Filed under: Movies, Theatrical Reviews

Theatrical Review: Get past the bag-o-hammers clichés and there’s a high-kicking fun to be had with Burlesque. Just sit back, embrace the commitment to entertaining cheese, and enjoy a coupla show-biz broads belting out big tunes.

Burlesque opens in a Des Moines Café of Big Dreams, but within minutes waitress Ali (Christina Aguilera) is grabbing cash from the till, packing her bags, and buying a bus ticket for Hollywoodland—all while belting out a song about said Big Dreams. But if you buy that bus ticket to Musical Fantasyland (circa 1942) along with Ali and her Super-Determined bangs, you can have a lot of cheesy fun at Burlesque.

Ali lands smack dab on the Sunset Strip, where Everyone’s Dreams Come True. (Or come down with chlamydia.) The would-be singer and dancer wanders into The Burlesque Lounge (at least the name is easy to remember), takes one look at all the fishnets, frills and Fosse Fosse Fosse, and she’s hooked.

This glorious palace of glitter and guy liner is owned by Cher, or at least a reasonable Madame Tussaud’s version of Cher. To be fair, when Cher’s on screen with Stanley Tucci as her gal-pal stage manager the two give off plenty of sparks as a couple of show-biz survivors who know when to snip and when to sob. (Cher’s unable to muster similar enthusiasm opposite Christina—she looks at the younger singer like a cat unsure how long to bat the mouse around before she devours it.)

There’s also a roster of club dancers on hand for the occasional cat fight–skanks in funny hats with names like Coco, JoJo, Cujo, and HoJo. And naturally we have a couple love interests for Ali.

One is Cam Gigandet, who has a motorcycle, a stylishly bohemian apartment for her to crash at, and a fiancé. Gigandet (Easy A, The Experiment) continues to show charisma outside the Twilight Universe—this despite appearing half the time shirtless and the other half in a Cabaret bowler that makes him look like the World’s Dopiest Droog. His rivel is Eric Dane as the rich real-estate mogul (Boo! Hiss!) who wants to take possession of Ali’s virtue and Cher’s club.

(The rest of the cast, including Tucci, Peter Gallagher, Dancing with the Stars champ Julianne Hough, and Kristen Bell as the Nasty Rival all play along–the sole misfire is in dragging Alan Cumming into all this then treating the great Cabaret star like a sort of gay house elf, good for a fleeting dash of naughty decadence.)

But not surprisingly Burlesque is at its best when it takes to the stage. First-time thespian Aguilera may not be ready for any acting awards—or any acting at all. (She lacks screen presence, and her attempts at sultry come off developmentally challenged–she looks like a slutty Muppet.) But of course that’s not why she or we are here.

Once Christina gets up under the lights and lets fly, you have to agree she has “a set of pipes.” And big brass ones, at that. Even Cher’s obligatory “I’m Telling You, I’m Not Leaving”-style rafter-shaker, the survivor declaration “Last of Me” works perfectly on a shamelessly arch level.

In fact all of Burlesque does. Sure the second half could do with fewer love ballads and more booty shaking, but for the most part the flim moves nicely along on winks, kicks, and bitchy air kisses. Everyone involved, from first-time director Steve Antin to Cher, Christina and the rest of the cast are fully committed to the film’s Moulin-Rouge-Lite artificiality. The result is a surefooted, entertaining crowd-pleaser that dances to every silly cliché in the book but rarely misses a step.

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