Details: (M), 119 mins, In Cinemas 13 January 2011, United States, English
Synopsis: The Burlesque Lounge has its best days behind it. Tess (Cher), a retired dancer and owner of the venue, struggles to keep the aging theatre alive, facing all kinds of financial and artistic challenges. With the Lounge's troupe members becoming increasingly distracted by personal problems and a threat coming from a wealthy businessman's quest to buy the spot from Tess, the good fortune seems to have abandoned the club altogether. Meanwhile, the life of Ali (Christina Aguilera), a small-town girl from Iowa, is about to change dramatically. Hired by Tess as a waitress at the Lounge, Ali escapes a hollow past and quickly falls in love with the art of burlesque. Backed by newfound friends amongst the theatre's crew, she manages to fulfil her dreams of being on stage herself. Things take a dramatic turn though when Ali's big voice makes her become the main attraction of the revue.
Nothing to get your tassles in a twist over.
Writer director Steve Antin’s Burlesque contains so little of the artform from which it takes its name that it barely warrants the comparison. In this flashy, trashy spectacle of sequins and sparkle dust, the subversive performance medium is watered down to little more than pretty girls miming show tunes in naughty knickers. That’s hardly surprising; this is an M-rated Sony musical starring Cher and Christina Aguilera, not Showgirls.
The flimsy storyline reworks the smalltown-girl-makes-good formula, and has Aguilera play Ali, an aspiring dancer with a mean set of pipes. Ali buys a one-way bus ticket from nowheresville, Iowa, to make a name for herself in LA. After a luckless day spent navigating the bright lights of the big city with a quarter-folded, crossed-out classifieds section, Ali ends up waitressing in The Burlesque Lounge, a faded cabaret club on the Sunset Strip. Ali and the club’s androgynous bartender, Jake (Cam Gigandet), strike up a friendship/flatmate dynamic, and she practices high kicks whilst serving Patrón to the club’s clientele, all-the-while trying to convince the club’s tough talking matriarch, Tess (Cher) to give her an audition.
Aside from a sheer body stocking and a one-off pair of pasties, Burlesque is an entirely chaste affair, and the performers show much less skin than you’d see in bona fide burlesque revue. This aspect, and the upbeat message about hard work having its own rewards, reinforces the film’s misty-eyed nostalgia for old musicals of the 40s.
Wisely, Antin plays to the key demographics of a Cher and Christina Aguilera double-bill, and lingers longer on his male cast’s six-packs and chiselled jawlines than on any of the lady bumps on stage. Similarly, the writer/director pens double entendres which veer towards the queer, though he lobs a few in for the other team too, by pulling the old ‘Surprise! I’m straight!’ manoeuvre on Gigandet’s character, to give Ali a love interest.
A silly plot point involving the club’s financial straits contains enough internal logic to make its own sense, and the key headliners deliver exactly the kind of performances that you expect from them. Both divas get their own torch song, to compensate any shortcomings in the acting department. (Aguilera is rarely convincing as the wide-eyed innocent, and Cher seems to be impersonating her own impersonators).
Supporting cast make the most of their thinly sketched archetypes: the bitchy, boozy star (Kristen Bell); the sassy fairy godfather (Stanley Tucci, again); and the Joel Gray-wannabe Alan Cumming, who phones in his turn as the nudge-nudge-wink-winking venue host. Save for a brief on-stage number set to slide whistle and wood blocks, the latter mostly lurks in the background making bitchy observations (“Honey, I should wash your mouth out with Jägermeister”).
Burlesque is unlikely to convert any new followers to either its stars or its subject matter and at 120-minutes, even die-hard fans are bound to notice the seams starting to show by the time the big “shimmy shimmy, strut-strut/ give a little what-what” closing number rolls around.
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