Movie Review

Movie Review – Burlesque

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– Summary –

Director : Steven Antin
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : Christina Aguilera, Cher, Stanley Tucci, Cam Gigandet, Eric Dane, Peter Gallagher, Alan Cumming, Julianne Hough, Kristen Bell.
Major Award Wins : 2011 Golden Globes – Best Original Song: “You Haven’t Seen the Last Of me”, written by Dianne Warren, performed by Cher.
Approx Running Time : 119 Minutes
Synopsis: Young wannabe singer/dancer Ali travels to LA to live her dream – and ends up rockin’ it out at a burlesque club destined for development due to a ton of back rent and mortgage payments.
What we think : Not as bad as everybody told me it was, Burlesque has its fair share of issues, but is not unwatchable as entertainment. It’s no Moulin Rouge, or Chicago, but it’s worth a look if you’re a fan of musicals or Christina Aguilera, whose glorious vocals rule this film from top to bottom.

**********************

If Moulin Rouge and Coyote Ugly had sex, this would be their bastard child. Cliched, predictable, utterly contrived, Burlesque has no reason at all to be as entertaining as it is. Indeed, the critical mauling Burlesque received on release put me off watching this at all, until I sat down with the good wife to watch it the other night. Is Burlesque a crappy film? Did it deserve the vitriol sent its way? Yes and no. If you can fault it for being anything, it’s probably overly unoriginal. Smallt0wn girl leaves small town and travels to the big smoke with starry eyes and a hitherto undiscovered talent? Check. Is this small town girl hot as a box of matches? Check. Does she fall for the bartender who writes songs after hours and who, himself, dreams of making it big, but lacks the balls to try? Check. Cynical, motherly boss whose personal financial situation puts the entire club/bar/establishment at risk? Check. Cool gay secondary characters who bring humor to the film by playing upon Hollywood’s cliches of gay people? Check. Bitchy drunken “star” of the show who is put in her place by the hotter, better newcomer? Check. Burlesque ticks all the boxes, and ticks them in ink.

All wrapped up with nowhere to sing…

Alice (Christina Aguilera), a young waitress in Small Town America, up and leaves for Los Angeles to follow her dream of becoming a singer. Arriving in Hollywood, she lands herself a gig at a burlesque club owned by Tess (Cher), serving drinks, a job she uses as a steppi9ng stone to her real dream of performing on stage. Tess, meanwhile, has financial problems of her own, with the bank rapidly foreclosing on the club unless she makes mortgage payments. One of the clubs bartenders, Jack (Cam Gigandet) lets Ali sleep on the couch in his apartment, and (of course) the two ends up falling for each other, although that particular road of romance is kinda windy and steep. In steps property developer Marcus (Eric Dane) who wants to buy Tess’s club in order to build condominiums, and who also has designs on Ali himself. Tess’s ex-husband, and co-owner of the club Vince (Peter Gallagher) is trying to persuade Tess to sell to Marcus, although Tess won’t have it, under any circumstances. Cue musical numbers, Aguilera’s awesome voice, dancing and some pretty sexy people strutting across the stage.

I gave up a bit of my life for this?

Watching this, half of me was waiting for Piper Perabo to appear and start dancing on the bar. It didn’t happen, but if it had, maybe this film might have had the energy needed to elevate it from the big-budget music video it remains. Burlesque is, simply put, a vehicle to showcase Christina Aguilera’s amazing, powerhouse performing talent. Make no mistake, hearing Aguilera belt out some of the number in this show in HD surround sound is an experience not to be missed, especially if you’re a fan, but the rest of this movie is forgettable schlock. It’s entertaining on only the most superficial level, as director Steven Antin struggles with the pacing and energy of the non-singing parts of the narrative. And there’s a fair bit of that in this film. The plot is predictable, as I mentioned before, with characters stolen from other films and given only the barest development here: even Aguilera’s Alice and Cher’s Tess, the two main characters, are thinly developed and lacking in genuine emotional depth, which is a fatal flaw for the film. Stanley Tucci, seemingly reprising the same role he had in The Devil Wears Prada, minces his way through yet another campy performance as the quite gay Sean, Tess’s best friend and club stage manager. Tucci better watch out, otherwise he’s gonna be typecast every time out. Still, he’s the funniest part of the film, bringing a geuine levity to the otherwise leaden proceedings. None of the characters are worth investing in, because the script doesn’t give us any hook to cling to on any of them. They’re all two dimensional, stock characters whose motivations and story arcs you can see coming three miles away.

Dancin’….

While the story and the script might be a pretty shallow affair, devoid of anything resembling an original idea, most of the cast gamely give their all in its execution. Cher, lacking any kind of movement in her face and ability to portray an emotion other than confused ambivalence, shows why she’s won an Oscar, giving one of the films most natural performances, elevating the material beyond what was printed on the page. Lead actress Christina Aguilera acquits herself pretty well for the material she’s working with, although it’s pretty safe to say she’s a better singer than she is an actress – that said, with a bit of time and training I think she’s got the makings of a genuine movie-star should she so choose. Her singing ability, which makes Cher look positively second rate, gives this film the hair-raising crackle missing from the character-driven moments. Cam Gigandet, as Ali’s bartender love-interest, smoulders convincingly, something fans of Twilight will enjoy but almost everyone else will find plain annoying. Gigandet does “hunk” well, I guess, it’s just that that’s all he is, and very little else. Alan Cumming is wasted in a very small role as one of the club’s performers, although he gives it his all when he appears. Kristen Bell, who starred in  Forgetting Sarah Marshall, all but obliterates her career as the former headline act Nikki, forced to pout and glower her way through a character so badly written and poorly developed it almost causes physical pain to watch. Grey’s Anatomy star Eric Dane does a pretty good job as the effectively ineffectual property developer: his character lacks spark or antagonism, making his hunt for Tess’s club a tepid, half-baked plot device. Is he a bad guy, or not? Initially, I thought so, but as the film goes on, it turns out he’s a nice guy, so the conflict in the film resolves itself without even a whimper. Even the supposed conflict between Ali and Jack, in which Jack must resolve an underdeveloped long-distance relationship with a girl in New York, fizzles quickly, with Antin’s direction unable to imbue the chemistry between the two actors with any real zing.

…and standin’.

That’s the thing, I guess: the film lacks zing. Antin gives us a rendition of “Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend” that falls flatter than a lemming at a cliff convention – dude, take a look at Bazz Lurhmann’s Moulin Rouge, or the “He Had It Coming” number in Rob Marshall’s version of Chicago for the answer on how to really mount a musical number, because the way Antin opens this film, it’s bereft of energy. Antin’s handling of the musical numbers is solid, although not cinematic, and his use of the widescreen aspect ratio is simplistic at best. The whole film feels like a glorified music video, with all style and no substance save the pulsating, pounding musical score. Antin stages the musical numbers much like Marhsall’s Chicago, although his camera angles and choice of shots in the editing suite feel… second rate, really. It’s like a midday movie filmmaking technique instead of a truly cinematic style.

4-Star

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9 COMMENTS

  1. The whole idea of it sounded terrible and when Aguilera appeared on the X Factor here in the Uk to promote it I knew it would be awful. However, no matter how bad Burlesque is the idea of these fine ladies dancing about the place with less than a few garments of clothing is somewhat appealing! 🙂

  2. Rod–

    I haven't seen this one yet so I can't go too far with that. It's on the radar when my list runs dry if for no other reason than to see Cher on the big screen again. I have to say she was exceptional in Mask and Moonstruck, not half bad and really held her own against the all star cast in Witches of Eastwick, and OK in Suspect – the latter being a mediocre film on its own.

    I love your line, "Burlesue checks all the boxes and does so in ink". That's just nice, effective, sums up that opening paragraph with a ding.

    I also think Agulera could be exceptional in the right film with the right director. We've all seen how a good director with a solid script and pull amazing performances out of actors who are either lightweights to begin with or otherwise been too long in the saddle, got comfortable, lazy, and people seem enamored with the same tired performance of the same actor doing themselves. We see this all the time from Di Nero (happy birthday btw) Tom Cruise, Streep, Sarandon, Spacek, etc., etc., and every now and again they come out of left field with a genuinely top notch performance.

    That being said, I'm not particularly fond of musicals and the like anyway so there will have to be a story, character, and emotionally truthful undercurrent here to make it all work. I liked Chicago and Moulin Rouge for what they are but I've rarely returned to them except for a precursory explore to prepare for a conversation or review or something. At the end of the day I can't connect to the sing-song-shenanigans even for the sheer entertainment value if the true blue blood work isn't there. I felt similarly after Across the Universe and what have you. Sorry, I digress.

    I can see your points about the music video aspect and just from what I've seen and read that sounds about right – the references to Coyote Ugly hit the mark, and your references to the music style and scores are right on. Another hit. Bing!

    • @ Dan – Trouble with Burlesque is, there's far too little clothes-off shenanigans to make things worthwhile!

      @ Rory – I agree that with the right director and vehicle, Aguilera could indeed be a solid film star, but it hardly seems likely in this current market. I did want to make a point on Cher, though: she's a quality actor for sure, but here the material she's working with is truly diabolical. Not even a classy performer can make trite dialogue and bad lighting work well, and Cher's no exception. Oh, and Bing back atchya! Cheers for stopping by!

  3. The trailer made it look sooooooo cheesy that I was about to get a nosebleed. Can't believe you checked this out! 😉

    • Like I said, only because the wife wanted to, and there was nothing else on! LOL!! I'd have skipped it completely had I been the one in charge of what we watched that night!

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Never blessed with a body worthy of a porn star, nor being the heir to a wealthy industrialists fortune, nor suffering the tragedy of having his parents murdered outside a Gotham theater, Rodney is, contrary to popular opinion, neither Ron Jeremy, JD Rockefeller, or Batman. As a serious appreciator of film since 1996, Rodney's love affair with the medium has continued with his online blog, Fernby Films, a facility allowing him to communicate with fellow cineasts in their mutual love of all things movie.

Movie Review – Burlesque

by Rodney Twelftree
9
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