×

Burlesque

"Burlesque" partially redeems its clumsy drama through infectious song and dance.

With:
Tess - Cher Ali - Christina Aguilera Marcus - Eric Dane Jack - Cam Gigandet Georgia - Julianne Hough Alexis - Alan Cumming Vince - Peter Gallagher Nikki - Kristen Bell Sean - Stanley Tucci

A certain garishness goes with the territory, but the rest is all writer-director Steven Antin’s doing in “Burlesque,” an overwrought, underwritten hootchy-kootchy tuner that desperately wants to be “Cabaret,” but lacks the edge and historical context to pull it off. Unfolding with the wide-eyed innocence of a classic MGM musical, in which an orphaned country girl — played by vocally endowed, acting-challenged pop star Christina Aguilera — finds her place within the dysfunctional family of a racy Sunset Strip nightclub, “Burlesque” partially redeems its clumsy drama through infectious song and dance, enough to win over a midsize teen (and gay) following.

Aguilera plays Ali, an Iowa waitress of indeterminate age who can’t stand one more minute in her dusty small town, quits her job and then sticks around to sing an opening number (an Etta James cover) before catching the bus to Los Angeles. Her dreams aren’t big — just something better than she left behind — and she realizes them in the Burlesque Lounge, a retro-styled joint where scantily clad, stunningly beautiful showgirls outnumber the customers, performing a mix of old and new songs.

“Burlesque” is to its namesake what gentlemen’s clubs are to genuine gentlemen — a stripped-down, tarted-up lingerie show divorced from the stage tradition’s satirical heritage, which makes for sexy, flash-of-skin dance numbers (ably edited by “Dreamgirls” cutter Virginia Katz) in lieu of wit or parody. The thin drama stumbles until Ali reaches the club — energized by Cher’s “Welcome to Burlesque” — a song that simultaneously introduces all the key characters and sells the nightclub’s appeal (the only example of expositional multitasking to be found on the soundtrack).

Clearly, the Burlesque Lounge is where Ali belongs, but it delivers virtually nothing in the way of conflict: The only obstacle is for Ali to win over tough-love Tess, the motherly co-owner of the club, who looks more like a Cher impersonator than the real Cher during her entrance — but soon reminds us of her gifts as both siren and star, socking over the movie’s lone ballad, the Diane Warren-written “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me,” in what could have been a throwaway scene.

The dancers are more or less interchangeable, with the exception of resident diva Nikki (Kristen Bell) and Georgia (“Dancing With the Stars” winner Julianne Hough), whose conveniently timed pregnancy provides an opening for Ali. Meanwhile, Antin deliberately blurs the sexuality of the male characters, including androgynous emcee Alexis (Alan Cumming, in “Cabaret” mode), gay stage manager Sean (Stanley Tucci, who survives unscathed) and eyeliner-wearing bartender Jack (“Twilight’s” Cam Gigandet).

“Burlesque” may be trading in archetypes, but that’s no excuse for the fact Ali is the least developed of these characters. Is she 20 or 30? A virgin or a skank? Antin gives us nothing to go on, apart from a detail about Ali’s mom dying shortly after the girl’s seventh birthday, and Aguilera, while undeniably entertaining when her character is onstage, cannot spin the slight backstory into anything resembling a full-blooded person. It’s a shortcoming, considering how much Tucci and Cher are able to do with their relatively minor roles.

As long as there’s music playing and girls sashaying, the movie delivers. But the instant it returns to earth, the seams start to show. What “Burlesque” needs is texture — not the red-velvet-and-rhinestones look that dominates the production design, but any sense that these are real people with real dreams facing real obstacles, rather than the overdue mortgage and moneybags investor (Eric Dane) Antin conjures up.

Antin, who has been prominently billed on posters and bus sides, is a former actor who made his screenwriting debut with 1992’s indie satire “Inside Monkey Zetterland.” While that movie aired the self-absorbed frustrations of those who drift into Los Angeles in search of stardom only to find rejection, “Burlesque” paints a rosier picture of showbiz, where talented hard workers eventually get their shot — none of the chewed-up and spat-out “Showgirls”-style vitriol here. Script shortcomings aside, Antin still manages to marshal an impressive production, and below-the-line contributions are consistently pro, except for greenscreen effects that look less convincing than Aguilera’s eyelashes.

The film economically divides its time between the Burlesque Lounge and Jack’s apartment, cutting to the club’s neon marquee so often between scenes that a drinking game seems in order. The lounge itself looks great, a model that could easily translate to a themed restaurant or Broadway show if the need should ever arise.

Burlesque

Production: A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Screen Gems presentation of a De Line Picture production. Produced by Donald De Line. Executive producers, Dana Belcastro, Stacy Kolker Cramer, Risa Shapiro. Directed, written by Steven Antin.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color prints, widescreen), Bojan Bazelli; editor, Virginia Katz; music, Christophe Beck; music supervisor, Buck Damon; production designer, Jon Gary Steele; art director, Chris Cornwell; set designers, Patte Strong-Lord, Jim Tocci; set decorator, Dena Roth; costume designer, Michael Kaplan; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), David R. B. MacMillan; supervising sound editor, Richard Yawn; re-recording mixers, Andy Koyama, Chris Carpenter, Bill W. Benton; special effects supervisors, John Frazier, Tommy Frazier; visual effects supervisor, Rocco Passionino; visual effects, Zoic Studios; stunt coordinators, Chad Randall, Troy Gilbert; choreography, Denise Faye, Joey Pizzi; associate producers, Geoff Hansen, Bazelli; casting, John Papsidera. Reviewed at AMC Century City 15, Nov. 13, 2010. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 116 MIN.

With: Tess - Cher Ali - Christina Aguilera Marcus - Eric Dane Jack - Cam Gigandet Georgia - Julianne Hough Alexis - Alan Cumming Vince - Peter Gallagher Nikki - Kristen Bell Sean - Stanley TucciWith: Dianna Agron, Glynn Turman, David Walton, Terrence Jenkins, Chelsea Traille, Tanee McCall, Tyne Stecklein, Paul Van Oppen.

More Film

  • Fantastic Four

    New 'Fantastic Four' Movie in Development at Marvel

    Marvel is going back to the Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige announced that a new movie based on the superhero group is in the works at San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday. Further details, however, including a release date, were not revealed. It marks the first Fox property for Disney to mine since the [...]

  • Mahershala AliThe Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon,

    Mahershala Ali to Star in Marvel's 'Blade' Reboot

    Marvel is rebooting the “Blade” series, and has cast Mahershala Ali to star. Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige announced the news at Comic-Con on Saturday as the panel’s big ending surprise. Ali also took the stage at the announcement to massive applause, donning the Blade baseball cap. Wesley Snipes previously played the half-vampire superhero in [...]

  • Doctor Strange

    'Doctor Strange' Sequel Billed as First MCU Horror Film at Comic-Con

    A sequel to “Doctor Strange” was announced as expected on Saturday at Marvel’s Comic-Con panel — what we didn’t see coming was the tone. Director Scott Derrickson said the film, titled “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” will mine the original comics and play up “the gothic, the horror.”  Derrickson said it will lead [...]

  • Simu Liu Shang-Chi

    Marvel's 'Shang-Chi' Finds Its Lead

    Marvel has found its next superhero. The studio announced that Simu Liu has been tapped to star in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” during its Hall H presentation at Comic Con, joining cast member Awkwafina, who was also announced during the presentation. Additionally, Veteran actor Tony Leung has joined the film as [...]

  • Angelina Jolie The Kept

    Marvel Reveals Cast and Plot Details for 'The Eternals'

    “The Eternals” have arrived. The first film announced at Marvel’s San Diego Comic-Con presentation on Saturday, unarguably the hottest ticket of the weekend, confirmed months of speculation by unveiling its cast: Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Richard Madden, Brian Tyree Henry, Kumail Nanjiani, Lauren Ridloff and Don Lee will star as 35,000 -year-old aliens. “This movie [...]

  • Gabrielle Carteris

    SAG-AFTRA Signs Netflix Deal With Expanded Coverage

    SAG-AFTRA and streaming giant Netflix have agreed to a new three-year contract with expanded coverage for union performers. Netflix has previously employed SAG-AFTRA members under the union’s standard master contracts for television and film and had been signing on a production by production basis. The union announced Saturday that the new deal recognizes performance capture as covered work [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame' Passes 'Avatar' to Become Biggest Movie in History

    After “Avatar’s” impressive 10 year reign as box office champion, “Avengers: Endgame” has officially dethroned James Cameron’s sci-fi epic to become the biggest movie of all time. On Saturday, Disney and Marvel’s blockbuster crossed $2.7892 billion at the global box office, and will exceed the $500,000 in ticket sales needed to surpass “Avatar’s” $2.7897 billion [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content