|Still from Burlesque|
It certainly had the recipe for greatness, but these Cookies were packaged half-baked. How is it possible to put together a Cast with so much presence as the likes of Cher, Eric Dane, Alan Cumming, Stanley Tucci, Kristen Bell and megastar Christina Aguilera, yet still come up with a final product as unremarkable and forgettable as Burlesque? First-time Director/Screenwriter Steve Antin appears to have to pulled off the unfathomable.
Ali (Aguilera) is a Waitress, fed-up with her dead-end Waitressing job at a Diner where her Boss is behind in payments to her. She quits, leaves town (and that Iowa accent!) and finds herself on the Sunset Strip, wandering into a Burlesque Club, where she is seduced by the glamour of the Girls on stage. So enamoured, she finds herself pleading to Club Owner Tess (Cher) for a job, settling even as a Waitress. Before we know it, magically she knows the Choreography for all the numbers in the Girls' repertoire, forcing her way into an Audition and wowing both a skeptical Tess and Gay confidante/Costume Maker Sean (Tucci) who "couldn't keep his eyes off her."
All is not well in the world of
Showgirls Burlesque, as jealous rival Nikki (Bell) doesn't take kindly to the Troupe's newest member with all the attention she receives. Wealthy Businessman Marcus (Dane) is taken aback by Ali's talent and beauty, while at the same time wanting to buy out Tess' Club, using the land for Condominiums as he is fully aware that her Club has seen more successful days, nearing Foreclosure. Ali finds herself caught also in a bit of a love triangle between herself, wealthy suitor Marcus and also temporary roommate Jack (Cam Gigandet) who also happens to be an aspiring Songwriter and a Bartender at the Club. Although Ali brings the Club some much needed success through Song and Dance, is this turn of fortune coming too late? And who will Ali choose as her Lover: Marcus with his suspicious motives or Jack, who can't seem to decide what he wants in life?
Let's be honest about it - Burlesque really upset me. Although many will be quick to point the finger at her, the Film's shortcomings aren't entirely the fault of first-time Actress Aguilera; in fact, she does a v. credible job here actually. Her weakness only shows in quieter moments, struggling to evoke pain and disappointment. But even her most committed performance isn't enough when the material she is working with isn't fully fleshed-out. It is particularly baffling that even by the end of the Musical, we don't find that we know anything about Ali other than that out of nowhere, she possesses remarkably refined talents. She becomes the Star of the Club, but then what? We witness no challenge or vulnerability in her rise to success other than a couple cruel jabs from Nikki, who conveniently keeps popping-up despite being told she is no longer welcome at the Club. The romantic story lines between Ali and her two suitors lack any trace of passion. She seems about as enthused about these two devastatingly handsome hunks as a raging Lesbian in a Men's Locker Room.
And Cher. How can one take anything away from her performance here? She is sublime as the passionate, yet Business un-savvy Mother Hen, Tess. And I cannot help but feel terrible that Antin dragged her through an absolutely painful-to-watch performance of Diane Warren-penned You Haven't Seen the Last of Me. On paper this might have appeared to be a defiant, poignant moment for her character, but ultimately it falls flat and serves no particular purpose in the big picture.
Tucci is wonderful as always as Jack, embodying the subtleties of a Gay Man without ever seeming like a parody of one. Somehow with no real back story, he manages to convince us that Tess and himself really have been the best of friends for many years; his charm is irresistible. And poor, horribly miscast Bell, whom I love seeing on the Big Screen, gets reduced to a grating Debbie Downer-type, eliciting "Oh no, not her again!" type responses simply by her sour-face appearing on-screen. Nikki even goes as far as to lie to Tess about sleeping with her ex-husband Vince (Peter Gallagher), only to confess that she didn't really do it. "I slept with your Husband... ha ha.. just kidding! I was just trying to upset you!!! LOL Can I come back to the Club and dance again?" - well, not in so many words, but still.... And all is well again in the world again. Seriously.
I'll admit that other than some of the fine performances in Burlesque, visually it is rather pleasing to the eye, particularly the numbers on stage and Costumes. In terms of Musical Direction, the songs are all over the place genre wise, and shouldn't have veered away from the authentic. But I suppose that's what you get when you assign Aguilera, who has no experience in Film whatsoever, the task of overseeing Music. Some things are better left to the Professionals and in this Film, perhaps it was overly ambitious to spread Antin and Aguilera so thin. Sony Screen Gems' Burlesque is now in theatres. You might not regret seeing it, but that's only because you quickly will forget it. Grade: C-