11.27.2010 | By Jack Rico |
I know it’s going to be hard to for many critics who panned ‘Burlesque’ to understand, but the film is a guilty pleasure that will be embraced mostly by women, the gay and Latino communities. I say the Latino community as well because they are the most avid and indulgent consumers of telenovelas – the preeminent guilty pleasure in the US, in my book. They’re so bad, yet so good. As many know, most bad films possess characteristics that make them dementedly pleasurable – this movie provides us with a plethora. If I can highlight one component that kills this movie over and over again is the tired and shameful setups that lead to repeated and unrelenting risible clichés. To be frank, the barrage is interminable, but it manages to be sporadically entertaining, somehow.
Christina Aguilera plays Ali, a small-town girl with a big voice and big dreams. Like countless girls before her, (Ruby Keeler’s Peggy Sawyer from “42nd Street” and Judy Garland’s Esther Blodgett from “A Star Is Born”) she leaves behind whatever she has and heads for uncertain future in the entertainment capital, Los Angeles. After stumbling upon The Burlesque Lounge, a majestic but ailing theater that is home to an inspired musical revue, Ali lands a job as a cocktail waitress from Tess (Cher), the club’s proprietor and headliner. Burlesque’s outrageous costumes and bold choreography enrapture the young ingenue, who vows to perform there one day. Soon enough, Ali builds a friendship with a featured dancer (Julianne Hough), finds an enemy in a troubled, jealous performer (Kristen Bell), and garners the affection of Jack (Cam Gigandet), a bartender and fellow musician. With the help of a sharp-witted stage manager (Stanley Tucci) and gender-bending host (Alan Cumming), Ali makes her way from the bar to the stage. Her spectacular voice restores The Burlesque Lounge to its former glory, though not before a charismatic entrepreneur (Eric Dane) arrives with an enticing proposal.
Cinematically, Burlesque is a mess, whether that is intentional or not is a future conversation. The acting was subpar to abysmal, the dialogue was criminal and the script was 75% old, stale tricks that have been worn out for decades. Even so, the camp charm manages to lure you in even through the dreadful moments of banality. I am sure director Steve Antin set out to do an entertaining and dignified project without the perversely sophisticated appeal… or did he? Only time will tell.
There will be a tendency to compare this film with Cabaret, Chicago and most recently Nine. Doing so would be unfair. Those movies had at the helm Bob Fosse and Rob Marshall, two stylistic and visual geniuses known for cinematic works of art. Antin looks like he was shooting a music video. It would have been interesting to see what heights the film could have achieved if it fell into more capable hands. Nevertheless, there’s some enjoyment to be had from the musical numbers, which are picturesque and staged with presence. Aguilera did a pretty good job for her first time out, I’ve seen worse (Paris Hilton). I never thought of Cher as a great singer, but her longevity as a performer lays that opinion to rest. Her credibility as an Oscar winner permits her to have a bad film here and there, but we all assumed this was a comeback film of sorts.
Burlesque will win many Razzie nominations, but as bad as it is, history will tell how bad made cult status.