Published Nov 24, 2010In the last decade, burlesque enjoyed a mainstream resurgence — thank Dita Von Teese — making a cinematic interpretation pretty much inevitable. Burlesque's writer/director, Steve Antin, has a tangential connection to that renaissance via his sister, Pussycat Dolls co-founder Robin. Regardless of the link, the rookie helm-er has little interest in elucidating a zeitgeist.
With often-laughable dialogue, a handful of expendable supporting characters and only a modicum of tension, Antin's film is largely forgettable. Still, it does have a few charms, including snappy pacing, Stanley Tucci's scene-stealing performance and Christina Aguilera's gigantic voice.
Making her theatrical debut, about a decade late for the role, Aguilera plays a small-town girl that brings her moxie and vocal talents to L.A. in search of success. There, she finds work at the eponymous club, replete with its cast of lovable archetypes, including the past-her-prime owner and matriarch Tess (Cher, looking as tightly stretched as a snare drum), her right-hand man, Sean (Tucci), and bartender/potential love-interest Jack (a charismatic Cam Gigandet); much writhing follows.
For narrative, Antin draws heavily on modern "classics" like Coyote Ugly and Showgirls, piling on the clichés and taking every opportunity to avoid tension. An under-serviced subplot involves a would-be rival, the barely-seen Kristen Bell. Thus, the closest thing the film has to a villain is Eric Dane's nice-guy real estate developer who just wants to make everybody happy.
Presumably, Antin is less interested in plot than serving up some good ol' fashion song-and-dance numbers, which he does unrelentingly. Highlights include "Welcome to Burlesque," "But I am a Good Girl" and closer "Show Me How You Burlesque." Strangely, many cuts eschew burlesque trademarks entirely, playing out like protracted Christina Aguilera music videos (if only Redman turned up). Furthermore, Antin insists on suffocating every character in close-ups, so the club itself stays ironically faceless.
The main cast is amiable enough, doing their best to infuse one-note characters with affability. Tucci is characteristically exceptional, but the real find is Aguilera, who gives an assured first performance. Nevertheless, Antin's script gives them little to grab hold of. Aguilera does sing the hell out of every song though; at least that's something. (Sony)