We open on a street so sparse, in a town so small, one expects tumbleweeds to float by the diner where two young ladies are wasting their lives away as waitresses. Pop princess/diva/star Christina Aguilera, is sitting on the counter top, staring off into the distance, looking forlorn and pensive. She announces that she’s got to get out of this town and before long, she is buying a one-way ticket to Los Angeles to become a star! There you have it. This is “Burlesque”, a new musical that steals (sorry, borrows would have been too generous a word to use here) from great movie musicals of the past, like “Cabaret”, “Moulin Rouge!” and “Chicago” (which incidentally all did it better), to showcase the vocal prowess of its star and transition her to the next inevitable level of her fame as a Hollywood actress.
It has not been a good year for Aguilera. Her latest album tanked and barely registered at radio. Her summer tour was scrapped due to low ticket sales, or so it was rumoured. And as if her professional troubles weren’t bad enough, she separated from her husband of just five years in the fall. With an album, a tour and a movie coming out in one year, this was clearly meant to be a big one for her. While my heart goes out to her, “Burlesque” is not going to turn anything around. Perhaps if there were a stitch of originality in the film, it might have given Aguilera some desperately needed credibility at this stage in her career. Writer-director (and I use those terms loosely) Steve Antin keeps the clichés coming though and it is painfully obvious that the only reason the film was made was to showcase Aguilera’s impressive chops. With reasons like that, it won’t amount to anything but a forgotten blip in the increasingly chaotic pop spectrum.
Judging from the age bracket of the audience I caught “Burlesque” with, I’d say more people were curious to see Cher return to the screen than anything else about this movie. Cher plays Tess, a former burlesque dancer that now runs the club, fittingly called “Burlesque”, where Aguilera finds acceptance and success. Cher is the only character other than Aguilera to sing in the film but never does she sing with her co-star. In fact, when Cher does sing, I was afraid her intensely tight face might crack into tiny little pieces but alas no, and at least she sounded decent. It’s a shame the songs she was given were so boring though. Fortunately, she has everyone’s favorite gay sidekick, Stanley Tucci, at her side to liven things up when necessary, which is often.
“Burlesque” is simply too easy to be anything other than mediocre. About half way through the film, when Aguilera inevitably finds her voice after struggling to get noticed in L.A. and just after Cher finds out that if they don’t raise an obscene amount of money by a fast approaching date that the club will close, you are lulled into a state of complete familiarity. Your fate is accepted and “Burlesque” makes its way to its predictable ending without full-on disaster or wardrobe malfunction. Familiar means comfortable and while comfortable can be nice, it can also be easily forgotten. Simply put, “Burlesque” falls very flat when it was clearly aiming for busty.
Review by Joseph Bélanger