- Rated PG-13
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All photos © Sony Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
here are a number of things that one can expect from a movie called “Burlesque” – like singing, dancing, and gorgeous women in revealing outfits – but it never even crossed my mind that it might actually be good. Even the film's trailer hinted at a potential train wreck, so you'll probably be surprised to discover that it isn't half-bad. Though the movie features some terribly underdeveloped characters and gets caught in the allure of its own glitz and glamour, the showy musical numbers and a great debut from Christina Aguilera make “Burlesque” a lot more enjoyable than you might believe. Think “Coyote Ugly” meets “Cabaret.” You know, minus the Nazis.
The pop diva stars as Ali, a small-town waitress who leaves her dead-end life in Iowa to chase her dream of singing in Los Angeles. After stumbling upon the Burlesque Lounge, a classy musical theater run by the headstrong Tess (Cher), Ali begs for the chance to audition for a spot in the dancing line. Instead, she lands a job as a cocktail waitress with the help of a friendly bartender, who takes her under his wing. But when one of the girls gets pregnant and Tess is forced to find a replacement, Ali is given her big chance, only to show that she can do a lot more than strut around in sexy lingerie and lip synch. As word of her incredible voice spreads, the Burlesque Lounge is restored to its former glory as an L.A. hotspot. But with the bills piling up and the theater in danger of foreclosure, Ali might not be enough to save it.
Though she was likely cast strictly for her singing ability, Christina Aguilera impresses in her very first film role. It was probably smart that she chose something that allowed her to fall back on her talents as a performer, but while Aguilera definitely shines in the film’s musical numbers, she holds her own in the more dialogue-driven scenes as well. There’s a playfulness to her performance that you don’t always see in musicians who try to make the jump into acting, and it makes it easier to accept her in the role.
Not to be upstaged by her young co-star, Cher also performs a pair of songs, one of which feels so out of place that it was likely included as a stipulation of her contract. She can still belt a tune with the best of them, but she’s gone through so much surgery that it’s hard to tell if she’s overacting or just trying to get an expression to register on her face. The rest of the cast is merely there to facilitate the story, although Stanley Tucci is reliable as ever as Tess' upbeat stage producer, recycling his gay sidekick shtick from “The Devil Wears Prada,” and Kristen Bell is always lots of fun as the catty bitch.
Neither one is given very much depth, but you could say the same thing for all of the characters. It’s certainly not one of the movie’s strong points, but director Steve Antin makes up for it with some entertaining musical numbers that really pop off the screen thanks to some stunning cinematography by Bojan Bazelli. This is where “Burlesque” is at its best, and Antin knows it, to the point that he crams as many stage performances into the film as possible. So many, in fact, that you’d rather he just got to the point and wrapped up the story instead of drooling over how amazing Aguilera looks in jazz-era costumes. It’s a simple case of knowing when enough is enough, and although “Burlesque” is a welcome surprise even with all its flaws, it makes you wonder how much better it could have been with a more experienced director behind the camera.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Sony’s Blu-ray release of “Burlesque” is loaded with bonus material, including an audio commentary with director Steve Antin (where he discusses, among other things, the film’s parallels to “Alice in Wonderland”) and six of the musical performances in their entirety. There’s also an alternate opening that’s really just the original opening in a different chronological sequence, a blooper reel, and five production featurettes on everything from the cast, music and choreography, production design and costumes.