With Cher, Christina Aguilera, Stanley Tucci, Cam Gigandet, Peter Gallagher. Directed by Steve Antin. Rated PG-13 for sexual content including several suggestive dance routines, partial nudity, language and some thematic material. 116 minutes.
There are going to be people who love BURLESQUE and people who hate it, but since the movie musical returned in a big way with “Chicago,” this one is different. We’ve seen a lot of flops and a couple of hits, all of them based on Broadway shows. “Burlesque” is an original, even if the plot is shopworn and only some of the songs are new.
Pop star Christina Aguilera does a credible job in her acting debut as Ali, the proverbial small town girl from the Midwest who arrives in L.A. hoping to break into show business. She ends up at a nightclub run by Tess (Cher) where the chorines lip sync their bump-and-grind dance numbers to old favorites. The only one who gets to sing is Tess, and Ali is lucky to con her way into a job as a cocktail waitress.
Of course, Ali gets her big break. Of course, there’s a rival (Kristen Bell) who resents her. Of course, there’s a young bartender (Cam Gigandet) who befriends her. There’s also a lovable gay stage manager (Stanley Tucci) who gets some of the best lines, and Tess’s ex-husband (Peter Gallagher) who’s also her partner in the club. Oh, and the club is way behind on its bank loans and there’s pressure to sell the property or lose it in a foreclosure (and no, with that plot, it’s not an unproduced Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland script).
In other words, there’s plot here to spare, but watching “Burlesque” for the story is missing the point. The story is just an excuse for the elaborate production numbers, and that wonderful moment when the rival pulls the plug on Ali who suddenly belts out the song on her own and brings the house down. This is a movie where Cher and Aguilera get to do what they know best, with a lighthearted story giving us breathing space between the production numbers.
There’s a decent cast here to keep things moving, with Tucci again showing he’s one of the best character actors working today. Oddly, Alan Cumming shows up as the maître d’ and sometime performer but he disappears for much of the movie. What a waste.
The music ranges from classics like “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” to several new numbers for Aguilera and two wonderful turns for Cher. Those not willing to indulge the film will see this as an endless rock video for Aguilera, while those willing to go along for the ride will find this frothy but never dull. All of the film’s many plots get neatly tied up by the end, with plenty of music and eye candy along the way.
“Burlesque” may not have a real moment in it, but it’s a musical, so what did you expect? It may not be the main course for the Thanksgiving weekend, but it’s a pretty tasty dessert.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.