GENRE: Romantic musical
THE PITCH: Little orphan Ali (Christina Aguilera), leaves her sleepy hometown in Iowa to pursue her Hollywood dreams. Down on her luck, Ali discovers the seductive art of burlesque at Burlesque on Sunset (Blvd.) and makes a go of it. Meanwhile the club's owner, Tess (Cher) fights with the banks to keep the doors open. Think Moulin Rouge meets Flashdance.
MONEY SHOT: Ali gets her big break when her bratty rival, Nikki (Kristen Bell) sabotages the lip-sync track for her number. Ali stops the curtain fall and delivers a soulful rendition of "Tough Lover".
BEST LINE: One of the chorus girls tells Tess she almost fell off the stage. Tess offers some sage advice stating, "If you fall off the stage remember, legs extended, boobs out." WORST LINES: Most of Tess' dialog. Between the biting quips and melodramatic rants, you feel as if writer/director Steven Antin came up with Tess' hammy lines while sitting front and center at a drag show. If you're into a good drag review, you may want to move this up to the "Best Lines" section.
SO WHAT IS BURLESQUE? According to the Webster-Merriam dictionary, its theatrical entertainment of a broadly humorous often earthy character consisting of short turns, comic skits, and sometimes striptease acts. What we now consider as burlesque, that being the glamorous, seductive striptease originated in the 1800s at the Moulin Rouge in Paris but became more synonymous to the craft in America during the early 1900s. The film gives no history but does tip a hat to its origins with a three-person segment featuring the club's emcee Alexis (Alan Cumming).
TORCH SONG THRILOGY: True Cher fans (and you know who you are) will be happy to see Tess take the spotlight in two segments, the opening musical sequence and a more somber moment when she takes the stage alone to "practice" a new song rightfully titled, "You haven't seen the last of me."
SKIN FACTOR: Considering this a movie about burlesque dancing, you'd think there be lots of boobs and butts about but oddly enough the only ass action you get is from Ali's co-worker, roommate and love interest Jack (Cam Gigandet). During a drunken, flirty moment, he retreats to the bedroom changing into his pajamas and does his own take on a striptease to impress the girl. Once completely naked, he goes to the kitchen, exposing his bum to grab a box of cookies to hid hide his junk. While theres no female parts to be seen, Aguliera's Ali does an impressive bare-all tease using traditional burleque-style props to give the audience a taste of what the shows are typically about. Since we're on the subject of skin, Cher's stretched and botoxed features are at points just laughable - especially when she's trying to be serious. During some sullen moments when the weight of the club's future is on her shoulders, her arguments and supposedly crying rants are emotionless, mainly because her face doesn't move. Just image Hannibal Lecter trying to drink a glass of water through his restraining mask.BEEN THERE DONE THAT: Ali's character, a girl with big dreams and an even bigger talent is reminiscent of Alex (Jennifer Beal) in Flashdance. Look for the moment when she talks with her roommate and undresses, changing into an oversized sweater that slips off the shoulder. Coincidence, I think not. If you know the difference between a shuffle and a kick ball chain, you'll see some Bob Fosse-inspired choreography and styling that immediately remind of you Cabaret. Tess' right hand man, Stage Manager, Sean (Stanley Tucci) is a copycat of his Art Director persona Nigel in The Devil Wears Prada. There's parts of the story's plot that teeter eerily close to the clubs financial woes ala Moulin Rouge.
BOTTOM LINE: While I could spend an hour ripping this film a new A-hole, I won't. This is not the tour-de-force musical we're accustomed to seeing of late. In short, its not that good. At best, its campy, predictable and pedestrian. Even with so much missing, its still quite entertaining and really fun. Antin's flat story is as campy and one dimensional as you can get, but his motley cast of veteran performers, including Aguilera (she was a Mouseketeer with Brittney and Justin after all) deliver big time, well beyond the confines of their laughable script. Cher, though plastic in features offers up Tess' limited lines with ease, and paired with her (not-so) straight man, Tucci, make up a dynamic duo thats both effortless and timeless.
If you're into musicals (you know who you are), Burlesque is light-hearted treat and a welcomed addition to the holiday movie lineup. If you're the other half of someone who likes musicals but doesn't like them quite as much (yeah, you know who you are, too), take stock in some bodacious performances on the stage that will get your blood pumping and possibly some foot tapping.