$12.00 ticket on a scale of $0 to $13.50.
“Burlesque,” which is Cher’s first major acting job in a feature film since “Tea with Mussolini” in 1999, is rated PG-13. The rating is likely to make a great many 13-year-old boys very happy. “Burlesque” is chock full of women who look like women, not size 00 stick people. “Burlesque” also answers several burning questions for the inquiring mind — such as “Can Christina Aguilera act?” (Yes); “Can Cher still move?” (Most definitely); and “Is Stanley Tucci really better at comedy?” (Yes.) This is not to diminish his dramatic acting chops in any way, but his comic timing and delivery are about as close to perfect as one gets in film today.
Helmed and written by Steven Antin, pic has the look and feel of a graphic novel (imagine panels drawn by pop art icon[wikipop] Roy Lichtenstein[/wikipop]) transferred to the screen. And at 100 minutes, it moves at a good clip. It’s part romantic comedy, part melodrama, part [wikipop search=”Mickey Rooney”]Mickey[/wikipop] and [wikipop search=”Judy Garland”]Judy[/wikipop] Put on a Show, lots of music and dance, part buddy film, part girl from Iowa makes good in LA, and all feel good movie.
The burlesque in “Burlesque” is pretty tame. This is not Gypsy Rose Lee throwing underwear at the audience. It’s PG-13, remember? But it gets the point across much the way Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe did in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. And that was in 1953.
Plot is fairly simple. It has to be. Christina Aguilera is Ali, short for Alice, a waitress at a bar in a one-horse Iowa town with big song and dance ambitions. She hotfoots it to LA and trips over a nightclub called “Burlesque” where she strikes up a friendship with a very gay looking bartender named Jack (Cam Gigandet) who wears more eyeliner than she does. He’s from Kentucky. He’s also a composer. He’s also not gay — and the scene in which said revelation is made is one of pic’s most charming. Ali, who has been hanging out in no more than a shirt in his flat, immediately covers up like a nun. But we get ahead of ourselves.
Ali is hired by Jack to replace a ditzy waitress. Her real goal is to get on stage at Burlesque, owned by Tess (Cher) and ex-husband Vince Scalia (Peter Gallagher). An actor of Gallagher’s talent is a tad underused in this role, but that is true of more than a few of pic’s thesps. “Burlesque” suffers from an abundance of talent. Eventually Nikki (Kristen Bell), a bottle baby who is club’s star, shows up drunk and is replaced in her act by Ali. Nikki’s revenge is to pull the plug on the lip-synch audio to which the dancers perform during Ali’s star debut. It backfires. Ali has the pipes of Cristina Aguilera. She wows the crowd in the club as well as Tess and her manager, Sean (Tucci). Tess immediately decides to build a new show around Ali sans lip-synch. It’s a hit. The cover balloons from $20 to $50, but trouble looms. Burlesque is up to its rafters in debt, and the banks are threatening to foreclose. Businessman Marcus (Eric Dane) has a $1 million offer on the table, which Vince is anxious to take. Tess wants nothing to do with it. Marcus, who scoots about in a Porsche 356 also has his eye on Ali (who wouldn’t?). After he sees her new act, he double’s his offer. He also makes his move. This puts him in conflict with bicycle-riding Jack, who also has the hots for Ali. Unfortunately Jack has a fiancée who shows up at the worst possible moment (graphic novel, remember?) and propels Ali into the arms of Marcus. Even at a $50 cover with people lined up around the block, Tess can’t pay the note. Things look hopeless for Jack, Tess, Vince, and Burlesque.
This is where pic’s [wikipop]deus ex machina[/wikipop] reveals itself. To Antin’s credit, he set it up in an earlier scene. Perhaps your critic is a tad harsh in calling it, “ex machina.” But “Burlesque” has so much going for it that even the slightest hint of a flaw stands out.
A few random thoughts: Cristina Aguilera convincingly and charmingly plays a corn-fed hick, totally against both her ethnicity (Hispanic) and her birthplace (Staten Island), and she handles her punchlines with aplomb. We expect this from Cher and Tucci, but Aguilera is known as a singer, not an actor, and the former have been on screen for decades. Pic probably would have got a PG had it not been for a couple of four-letter words. Cherbelts out a number (“You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me”), which is a showstopper. She also still plays the diva to the hilt. However, she has succumbed to soft focus for the closeups (she is 64 years old) that bedeviled Lucille Ball in the 1974 musical version of “Mame.” To a certain extent Stanley Tucci reprises his role from “The Devil Wears Prada,” but as Sean he is better. Aguilera has an amazingly beautiful face and figure. She should backpedal on her off-screen cosmetics. One of your critic’s friends felt that Eric Dane (Marcus) was neither sufficiently villainous nor ugly to be pic’s bad guy. Your critic feels that Marcus as a character is neither bad nor good. He just plays a smart businessman there to move the plot along. And if he were both villainous and ugly, why would Ali go for him? She’s supposed to be a hick with a brain.
“Burlesque” benefits from an economical screenplay, tight editing, a firm hand in the director’s chair, and excellent tech credits. Bring your 13-year-old.
[nggallery id=29]Burlesque on Netflix