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Same old song and dance?

Posted: Thursday, December 09, 2010

"Burlesque"

De Line Pictures

1 hour, 59 minutes

Remember what a kick it was to see "Chicago" up on the big screen? The spectacle, the music, the dancing -- all larger than life and crackling with energy. Remember the excitement of the huge musical numbers, the lines of people at the theatres, and the avalanche of awards that followed? Remember?

Well the marketing firm handling this week's warmed over small-town-girl-comes-to-the-big-city-and-saves-the-theater flick are hoping you do, and they're pulling out all the stops to skew their film toward that loyal "Chicago" fan base. Unfortunately, instead of a musical extravaganza performed by A-List talents like Rene Zellweger, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Richard Gere, and directed by the straight-from-broadway powerhouse Rob Marshall, the film you'll be watching stars Cher, one of the bad vampires from "Twilight," and Christina Aguilera, directed by one of the stars of "The Goonies." This is "Burlesque"!

Aguilera plays Ali, a frustrated waitress who just knows if she can get to L.A., she'll make the big time. When she finally saves up the money, she buys a one-way bus ticket and is on her way.

But, as is so often the case, she finds the streets aren't paved with gold and there are plenty of other girls who can sing (though I have to say there aren't many who can sing like Christina Aguilera). It's only when she happens on a seedy club featuring half-naked dancers doing old-timey burlesque numbers that she decides she won't take no for an answer. The "no" she won't take comes from the club's owner Tess, played with a statuesque demeanor by Cher. I say statuesque not because she was somehow dignified or classic, but because she seemed like a statue. Her expression hardly changed through the entire film. Angry, happy, sad -- Tess perpetually wears a mildly amused, slightly annoyed, but mostly impassive look. I began to wonder, as the film went on, if maybe this is the current extent of Cher's expressiveness. Perhaps one too many botox injections has permanently frozen this former icon's face into a look of vague irritation.

Ali bullies her way into a waitress job, and then eventually works her way onto the stage, stealing the spotlight from current star Nikki, played by Kristin Bell. Nikki's not likely to take this lying down, but luckily Ali has made friends with Jack the bartender, who lets her move in with him. Ali assumes Jack is gay because a.) he doesn't try to hit on her, and b.) he wears eyeliner, so she feels perfectly comfortable strutting around the apartment half-naked, as if gay men are any more comfortable with nearly nude strangers than the rest of us. Jack, it turns out, isn't gay, has a fianc, and only wears eyeliner because he works at BURLESQUE!, so you know these two are going to get together before too long. Meanwhile, Cher and Stanley Tucci are trying to save the theater from a wicked developer who wants to own the air over Laguna Beach, or something. It doesn't matter - just let yourself get carried away by the spectacle! Or try to, anyway.

I compared "Burlesque" to "Chicago," but in reality it owes more to "Moulin Rouge," the wild and perfectly constructed mix of musical, romance, and save-the-theater melodrama from Baz Luhrmann. Unfortunately, "Burlesque" is too low rent to really pull it off. There're so many things going on, but you really find it difficult to care about any of them -- mostly because you don't care about any of the characters.

Aguilera is not much of an actor, and Cher, though an Oscar-winner, doesn't really do any acting in this movie. There are some good actors -- the aforementioned Tucci and Bell, as well as the incredibly talented Alan Cumming, but there's not much for them to do as the entire story is focused on the character of Ali.

The best thing about the film are the musical numbers, though they aren't as impressive as the trailer implies. Aguilera, however, can truly belt it. I mean that girl can sing. When doing what she's good at, Christina can blow the doors off, and it's too bad she couldn't showcase that in a better movie.

To be honest, I didn't know that Aguilera was that talented. I mean "Genie in a Bottle" is catchy, but c'mon. Too bad "Burlesque" wasn't done opera-style like "Evita." Maybe then Christina Aguilera's pipes could have done the acting for her.

Aside from the wooden acting, rehashed and derivative storyline, and predictable plot, "Burlesque" is just kind of hard to watch. Relating a technical complaint such as editing is a little hard to describe without visuals, but suffice it to say that director Steven Antin did not take much away from his work on "The Goonies." I would guess he was more affected by the music video work he's done with groups like "Girlicious" and "The Pussycat Dolls."

In "Burlesque," Antin never lets the camera rest for more than a second or two. I would guess that there are as many cuts in the first 10 minutes of this film as there are in Quentin Tarantino's entire body of work.

Heaven forbid we have two characters who are speaking to each other in the frame at the same time. Christina: "Hi, Tess." CUT! Cher: "Hey." CUT! Christina: "So, I want to sing." CUT! Cher: "No." CUT! Cut! Cut! Cut! Cut! It's like watching a movie while rapidly blinking your eyes.

"Burlesque" is not a good movie. If it weren't for Christina Aguilera's singing, and some adequate dance numbers, it would be a truly bad movie. But even then, I have to add a caveat -- "Burlesque" is a friendly movie. There is nothing overtly mean or offensive about it, and much like another low-rent song and dancer that came out last year, "Fame," it's easy to enjoy despite it's major flaws. My wife and I had fun at this film -- so what if much of the time we were laughing at instead of singing along.

Grade: C-

"Burlesque" is rated PG-13 for sensuality, language, and revealing and sexy dance numbers.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.



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