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Fosse in a modern-day L.A. with less male homoerotic undertones and more Pussy Cat Dolls running around. That’s the easiest way to describe the new musical film, “Burlesque”, featuring the vocal talents of pop veteran, Cher, and vocal heavyweight, Christina Aguilera in her first feature film role.
When star power stems from the music scene, it’d be easy to think the film is set to go the way of “Step Up”, but the cast keeps the performances surprisingly strong, even if the result is a largely simple film that’s only good for its two-hour runtime.
Ali (Aguilera) is a small town girl ready to make it big in L.A. But the land of celebrity plenty doesn’t quite accept her as quickly as she hopes. One day, she stumbles across a hole-in-the-wall burlesque club that introduces our innocent star to the enticing world of lingerie choreography, but club owner, Tess (Cher), is just as underwhelmed by our leading lady as the rest of the city. That doesn’t stop Ali, who picks up a tray and starts serving drinks to get her foot in the door and closer to the stage.
Eventually she finds a way into the spotlight where she shows these tired dancers that singing, rather than lip-syncing, the classic burlesque tunes just might give the club a fresh take that can save it from going under.
Now our burlesque story, like any other musical, wouldn’t be complete without a little love on the side, and former “Twilight” vamp, Cam Gigandet, as bartender and aspiring pianist, Jack, provides all the romantic oohs and aahs worthy of any Aguilera top 40 single (and you just might get to see a little tushy along the way). But if that’s not enough for you, then let’s get “Grey’s Anatomy” hunk, Eric Dane, on the scene as Marcus, the all-too-confident real estate mogul with a lust for talented individuals. I smell love triangle.
If the plotline sounds all too familiar, then you were probably raised on the Hollywood classics of the 1940s and ‘50s, or you just might have seen one too many Lifetime movies. Alas, the storyline is but a cipher for the numbers and actor/music video director turned feature director, Steve Antin, focuses all his energy on making Aguilera shine (sometimes rather literally) on the burlesque stage. The numbers are big and the costumes are small, like the film’s title might suggest. The energy is infectious, the choreography is splendid and we get to listen to one of the most talented singers in the business.
Honestly, when Aguilera performs her first scantily clad song, it’s hard not to whisper, “Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir?” This isn’t new territory for the singer who changes her look every other album, going through a burlesque phase nine years ago. Plus, it feels like a cheat when Kristen Bell, as Nikki, and Julianne Hough, as Georgia, perform “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”. Sorry ladies, Nicole Kidman’s take on that one in “Moulin Rouge” can’t be beat (oh wait, I think Aguilera did a music video for that film).
I must admit, Cher’s voice doesn’t do it for me (but then again, it never did). With only two songs to her credit here, the former A-lister-turned-entertainment icon proves that she can still act. Aguilera does a decent job, but it helps that she’s surrounded by more seasoned faces. Kristen Bell plays the drama queen well. Cam Gigandet proves he’s more than eye candy when he doesn’t have fangs. Peter Gallagher even serves as a comforting face, as Tess’ ex-husband, Vince.
With a decent sized cast, two performers save this film from utter mediocrity: Stanley Tucci and Alan Cumming. Tucci sores in his strongest typecast: the gay best friend who knows just what to say and how to dress those around him. Alan Cumming, disappointingly, remains in the background of the film as the doorman with a few sassy comments. The film would’ve been more entertaining with less brooding from the lead stars and more one liners and dancing from the former Nightcrawler.
It’s not that “Burlesque” is boring, it’s just not as good as its predecessors — a shadow of better films that chose to create a musical score rather than play Marilyn Manson or Madonna in the background when nobody is singing (it’s just tacky). Still, the performances make this one a refreshing break from other musicals that haven’t been able to construct a cohesive, or at least smooth, storyline.
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