Review: 'Burlesque' delivers a bump and grind and yawn
There’s a devoted breed of optimistic movie fan that hopes in his or her heart of hearts that every “Skyline” will be another “Star Wars” or that every “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” will be another “Harry Potter.” And then there’s the kind who lines up on opening day of “Glitter,” praying that the lightning that gave us “Showgirls” will strike twice.
It’s that latter breed that will no doubt find themselves most let down by “Burlesque,” a movie that promised to be a two-car diva pileup but winds up being just a leaden missed opportunity. As one critic who caught an early screening confided, “It’s not the next ‘Showgirls’…but it might be the new ‘Coyote Ugly.’” And now that I’ve seen “Burlesque” for myself, I’m in the awkward position of having the defend the honor of “Coyote Ugly.”
“Burlesque” lets us know right off the bat that it’s going to deliver a string of show-biz movie clichés by introducing us to Christina Aguilera’s Ali, a small-town waitress with (wait for it) A Dream. In no time, she’s shaken off the dust of her Iowa hamlet, rented a dumpy Hollywood Blvd. apartment, and wandered into Burlesque, a nightclub where the girls wear PG-13 outfits and lipsynch to music while they strut about in varying levels of sequins and innuendo.
Center stage is Tess (Cher), who owns the place and sings a song called “Welcome to Burlesque,” the first of not one, not two, but three compositions explaining to the audience what they’ve come to see. It’s as if “Oklahoma!” decided to pause every 30 minutes to explain that the film is taking place just north of Texas.
That “Welcome to Burlesque” number is also one of the earliest hints that writer-director Steve Antin has worn out his DVD of “Cabaret.” Opening number in a nightclub that welcomes the audience? Check. Men wearing bowlers and guyliner? Check. Fosse-esque chair dance? Check. Editing between Aguilera singing a soulful ballad and scenes of her lolling about in bed with her new beau, à la “Maybe This Time”? Check. A role for Alan Cumming, who won a Tony for the Broadway “Cabaret” revival? Check, check, and cash that check.
But Antin is no Bob Fosse. He’s not even Debbie Allen, particularly since the choreographed numbers are edited so choppily that you never get to see a full 5-6-7-8 without a cutaway. Can Aguilera, or Kristen Bell (as a drunken diva forced out of the spotlight), actually perform these burlesque numbers? Only the editor knows for sure.
With the dance numbers zipping by, “Burlesque” tries to coast on Aguilera’s singing voice, which gets trotted out periodically and becomes a plot point – Ali can sing live, and that makes her a star, particularly since Tess is worried about losing the club to the bank and blah blah blah. But here’s the thing about Aguilera’s singing, whether you marvel at her lung power or recoil from how hard she’s working it – this is a voice that you stand and admire at a distance, from behind the velvet rope, and not one that takes you in and allows you to empathize with the singer. As such, it winds up becoming a wall that stands between the viewers and the heroine with whom we’re supposed to relate at some level.
Antin puts all of the musical numbers on the stage of the club, which is fine if – as in “Chicago" – they all sound like something that would fit into that specific context. But when Cher belts out her Diane Warren–penned I’m-still-standing ballad “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” or Aguilera puts a gardenia in her hair for “Bound to You” (for the aforementioned romantic intercutting sequence), neither of those songs have anything to do with shake-and-shimmy that we see in all of the other burlesque numbers. It seems inconceivable that performers of this specific brand of theatricality would grind the show to a halt for this kind of Oscar-friendly vocalizing.
Not that most of the elements of “Burlesque” stand up to much scrutiny – the men are stuck with cardboard roles, with “Twilight” co-star Cam Gigandet as the hunky bartender/frustrated composer, Eric Dane as the not-all-bad real estate mogul with designs on both the club and Ali, and Stanley Tucci reviving his gay-male-Eve-Arden shtick from “The Devil Wears Prada.” And how does Julianne Hough’s dancer get pregnant, then hugely pregnant, then back onstage for the big finale when the action is supposed to take place over the course of a few weeks?
Burlesque, Tess tells us, is about owning the stage, but “Burlesque” commits the cardinal sin of mediocrity. It’s not good enough to be a memorable musical, nor awful enough to become a legendary howler. Unlike the curvy girls that parade across its stages, it’s a totally flat experience.
Duralde is the author of “Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas" available on Amazon.com and the DVD Editor of Movieline. He's also written for MSNBC and the Rotten Tomatoes Show.
Related: Watch Cam Gigandent and Christina Aguilera talk "Burlesque."
2013 | Thriller | RSummary: Based on the true story of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) a Miami bodybuilder who wants to live the American dream. He would like to have the money that other people have. So he enlists the help of fellow bodybuilder Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-convict, Christian bodybuilder Paul Doyle (D...Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub
1993 | Sports | PGSummary: Emotionally powerful sports classic featuring Sean Astin as a skinny high school kid with big football dreams and the determination to make his way towards his dream team at Notre Dame.Director: David Anspaugh
Cast: Sean Astin, Jon Favreau, Ned Beatty
1995 | Mystery | NRSummary: Denzel Washington plays an out of work WWII vet who takes the wrong job and is soon neck-deep in a mess of politics, murder, and jazz in '40s Los Angeles.Director: Carl Franklin
Cast: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals
1997 | Crime | RSummary: Quentin Tarantino adaptats an Elmore Leonard novel into this story of a few increasingly desperate people scraping to get by. It has deep soul, a wicked sense of humor, and Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, Pam Grier, and Robert Forster.Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster
1996 | Crime | RSummary: Jerry, a small-town Minnesota car salesman is bursting at the seams with debt... but he's got a plan. He's going to hire two thugs to kidnap his wife in a scheme to collect a hefty ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. It's going to be a snap and nobody's going to get hurt... until people start ...Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare
2013 | Drama | RSummary: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill have boundless energy in the story of a real-life commodities crook who earned millions through scummy small-time stock trades.Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
2007 | Comedy | PGSummary: Newlyweds Nick (Ice Cube) and Suzanne (Long) decide to move to the suburbs to provide a better life for their two kids. But their idea of a dream home is disturbed by a contractor (McGinley) with a bizarre approach to business.Director: Steve Carr
Cast: John C. McGinley, Ice Cube, Nia Long, Aleisha Allen
2013 | Comedy | NRSummary: Insanely funny comedy show created by Amy Schumer, who stars in brilliantly funny sketches about sex, city living, dating, and friendship.Director: Daniel Powell, Amy Schumer (creators)
Cast: Amy Schumer, Kevin Kane, Mike Houston
2008 | Science Fiction | PGSummary: Animated series continues the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker as they battle the Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku and General Grievous, but also takes time to explore other smaller characters in the Star Wars universe.Director: George Lucas (creator)
Cast: Tom Kane, Dee Bradley Baker, Matt Lanter
Let Streaming Genie help you.