Cher as Tess
Christina Aguilera as Ali
Eric Dane as Marcus
Cam Gigandet as Jack
Julianne Hough as Georgia
Alan Cumming as Alexis
Peter Gallagher as Vince
Kristen Bell as Nikki
Stanley Tucci as Sean
Dianna Agron as Natalie
Glynn Turman as Harold Saint
David Walton as Mark the DJ
Terrence Jenkins as Dave
Chelsea Traille as Coco
Tanee McCall as Scarlett
Tyne Stecklein as Jesse
Paula Van Oppen as Anna
Isabella Hofmann as Loretta
James Brolin as Mr. Anderson
Stephen Lee as Dwight
Denise Faye as Preacher
Michael Landes as Greg
Wendy Benson-Landes as Marla (as Wendy Benson)
Katerina Mikailenko as Brittany
Directed by Steve Antin
A smalltown girl from Iowa, Ali (Christina Aguilera) travels to Los Angeles to make her fame and fortune as a singer and dancer. There, she discovers the Burlesque Theater run by the veteran Tess (Cher), a place where girls can strut their stuff on stage to entertain the club’s patronage. With the help of the club’s hunky bartender Jack (Cam Gigandet) and the theater’s stage manager (Stanley Tucci), Ali goes from being a cocktail waitress to being on stage belting out songs with her amazing voice.
Anyone who complains there’s nothing original coming out of Hollywood may want to stay away from “Burlesque.” Disguised as an original movie musical, it’s in fact an amalgam of “Chicago” and “Cabaret” and “Moulin Rouge!” and “Rock of Ages,” musicals and movies that writer/director Steve Antin must have watched dozens of times before making what is one of the most cliché-ridden films in years.
Granted, this is meant as a starring vehicle for pop diva Christina Aguilera to try her hand at acting while avoiding comparisons to “Glitter”-era Mariah Carey. In that regard, Aguilera is barely passable at doing much to enhance material that gives her every chance to get on stage and do what she does best, but falters whenever she’s not performing, instead playing cutesy flirting games with the club’s bartender Jack, who becomes her ersatz roommate when she has no other place to stay.
While some might welcome Cher back to the screen, her role as the club matriarch seems below her abundant talents even though she has decent scenes with Stanley Tucci, who continues to be the best part of any movie he’s in, even if he’s essentially giving support to a new client in his roster of over-60 actresses. In this case, Tucci is back to playing a gay stereotype similar to his character in “The Devil Wears Prada,” though the character’s sexuality is wisely played down until one unfortunate scene in the last act.
The number of subplots that have been culled from other sources is fairly blatant including Jack the bartender having competition for Ali from a wealthy suitor played by Eric Dane (like in “Moulin Rouge!”) who wants to buy the club and raze it to the ground to build condos (like in “Rock of Ages”). The club is already having financial problems that will get it shut down but Tess is insistent on not selling while somehow finding the money to stage ridiculously elaborate productions. That is, unless all those big numbers are happening in Ali’s head ala “Chicago.” When you pull out every cliché in the book, you’re bound to end up with a movie so predictable you can guess every line seconds before they’re uttered, and that is certainly the case. Clearly, “Burlesque” was made for kids who have never seen or heard “Cabaret,” though wasting Alan Cummings–who actually starred on Broadway in “Cabaret”–as the club’s ticket taker who appears on screen three times including one stage number, seems like another waste.
Adding to the clichés, Kristen Bell plays Ali’s arch-rival Nikki, the club’s often-drunk veteran who at one point sabotages Ali’s big break, a plan that backfires when Ali opens her mouth and starts singing, causing the skies to open up and rain money down on the club. Well, not really, but that’s what one might think from the way Tess raves about the typical Aguilera number. (Incidentally, anyone who knows anything about live music might wonder why there’s a live band playing behind the lipsyncing dancers, yet when Nikki pulls the plug, the band plays on with Ali singing over them sans mic.)
In between all the singing and dancing, it’s briefly mentioned that Ali comes from a troubled past, having lost her mother at age 7, something we learn during one of the movie’s many “five-minute dramas” that are never fully resolved. Another one involves the club’s other featured dancer, Georgia (Julianne Hough), who isn’t even introduced properly before we learn she’s pregnant. For the most part, Antin’s writing is abysmal, one low point involving Aguilera and Cher having a heart-to-heart about applying make-up. If you’re able to keep from laughing through that, there’s plenty of other unintentional funny scenes later one involving Nikki and Tess going at it over Ali’s rise to fame at the club.
The film quickly gets mired in that erratic cycle of poorly-executed drama and corny lighter scenes, cutting between them and one of the musical numbers. Essentially, it’s a long-form music video plagued by an overload of montage sequences and musical numbers that will keep the guys who edit together those YouTube videos of characters saying the name of the movie busy with the number of times the word “burlesque” actually appears in one of the songs. At just the right moment in the movie, Aguilera sings her new single, then Cher sings her new single and then… what? Stanley Tucci doesn’t get his own single? What a rip-off.
While it may seem impossible to decide which is the most offensive aspect of “Burlesque”–the bad writing and acting, the gay stereotypes, the blatant plagiarism–Antin even includes a number based on “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” again stolen from “Moulin Rouge!”–the worst offense may be Antin’s decision to put a permanent blemish on Mazzy Star by including one of their lovely tunes amongst the rest of the cookie-cutter pop music.
Mr. Antin, you’ve proven your ability to watch and imitate other musicals, but in the future, you may want to set your bar higher than trying to be Rob Marshall.
The Bottom Line:
“Burlesque” offers plenty of T & A for perverted middle-aged men too cheap to pay to get into a real strip club, but there’s nothing we haven’t seen before in this generic, sanitized version of “Showgirls” that blatantly plagiarizes dozens of far superior musicals.