November 25, 2010

MOVIES: Burlesque (Steven Antin, 2010)

Burlesque is not the Showgirls-level catastrophe that the advertising might have suggested, but also isn't, for the most part, terribly memorable.

The movie is, in essence, a modern Busby Berkeley flick with Christina Aguilera in the Ruby Keeler role as Ali, who's fresh off the bus from Iowa, determined to be a star when she wanders into a burlesque lounge owned by Tess (Cher, in a much smaller role than the co-lead you'd expect from the posters and the billing). If you don't already know that by the end of the movie, Ali will have become a star, saved Tess's club, and landed herself a guy, then you have clearly never seen a movie before.

As an actress, Aguilera doesn't make much of an impression, either positive or negative, but when she sings, she absolutely holds your attention. She's ten times better than most of the material she's given to sing (though her opening number is, I think, an old Etta James song that is nearly worthy of her), and has the kind of talent and taste that makes me long for her to do an album of standards.

The most noteworthy thing about Cher at this point is her spectacularly immobile face; watching her speak or sing is like watching one of those old nutcrackers where only the lower jaw moves. She does tolerably well with the two songs she's given, but it's painfully clear why the movie avoids ever having her share the stage with Aguilera, who would destroy her.

Alan Cumming seems to think he's still playing the Emcee in Cabaret in his waste of a role as the club's ticket-booth guy. Cam Gigandet plays Ali's love interest; he is well-sculpted and pretty to look at, and this is all that the role asks of him. The better supporting turns come from Kristen Bell as Ali's rival, the club's established star, and Stanley Tucci, who gets all the best punchlines in a reprise of his turn from The Devil Wears Prada as the gay sidekick.

Ultimately, the problem is that the movie is only moderately successful at anything -- moderately sexy, moderately funny, moderately good music; the only thing that truly impresses is Aguilera's singing, and you can get that (and with better material) by buying one of her CDs.

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