When I think of the word burlesque, the only thing that really comes to mind is a strip club. I imagine the term was coined so that married men could get away with seeing strippers, on account that the proper term in one of these clubs would be burlesque dancers. See? It sounds so much more sophisticated than stripper . . . and here’s the kicker . . . it’s basically the same thing! Except during one of these shows, the women sing too! But wait, this seems like a great idea for a musical. Throw in two iconic pop-stars and we have a guaranteed hit! It’s the formula for Steven Antin’s Burlesque (which he both helmed and wrote the screenplay to) that’s just been released. But if it seems that we’ve seen this movie before . . . well, it’s because, in essence, we have.
Accompanied with a stereotypical country jam, Burlesque is introduced in a small, dead-end town, where local waitress, Ali (Christina Aguilera), who has big dreams of becoming a successful singer, is seen taking money from her employer’s cash register, which her cheapskate boss has owed her. She then travels to Los Angeles, in hopes of attaining her American Dream, where she runs into a small club by the name of “The Burlesque Lounge.” Interested, Ali decides to take a peek. Upon her entrance, she is transported to a place very reminiscent of a French World War II-era strip joint. Stunned she asks the ticket holder, “What is this place? A strip club?” To which he responds, “I should wash your mouth out with Jà¤germeister,” serving as a key indicator for the overall quality of Antin’s script.
And as you’ve probably guessed, if you’ve seen the trailers, pop superstar Cher plays the owner of the club, Tess, a former dancer and no-nonsense diva, who maintains the venue with Sean (Stanley Tucci), her suitably flamboyant best friend. Not surprisingly (as it’s been done as many times), it turns out that Tess is in a lot of debt and the club is in danger. In fact, it may even be shut down, as real-estate icon and world-class asshole, Marcus (Eric Dane), is gearing up to buy the place for his own selfish reasons. But in a last ditch effort, Tess hires Ali, who proves worthy of the stage, after one of her dancers, Georgia (Julianne Hough), announces that she’s pregnant and is forced to leave. However, Ali’s transformation from cunning country-gal to fabulous city-slicker proves to be rocky, and her newfound success strikes a sour note in Nikki (Kristen Bell), an egomaniacal dancer, whose drunkenness and vindictiveness sends her to the bottom of the food chain.
Among the sea of faces, all of which are caked up with eye-liner, lip stick, and whatever else you women use (I’m no expert), there’s Jack (Cam Gigandent) , some hipster bartender, who first talks to Ali and hands her a job at waiting tables. They slowly develop a romantic connection (although Jack has a fiancé in New York), which is a sharp contrast to the mother-and-daughter relationship that Ali and Tess share.
Although I admit that I cheered like a middle-aged mom during both of Cher’s musical performances (both of which can be compared to her hit “Strong Enough”), there isn’t a lot to recommend in Burlesque. The performances are wooden, though Aguilera is better than expected, and the screenplay just reeks of horrid dialogue and poor pacing. Ali becomes incredibly bitchy and hard to like towards the film’s second-act, which seems to parallel her transformation. Just like Ali uses more and more makeup and indulges in designer shoes to hide her true-self, Burlesque becomes much too contrived, with more pop-driven leads (in contrast to 1950s-esque bangers). Both styles, however, are equally offensive to any die-hard feminist — with themes ranging from gold-digging to casual sex.
But there are some nice set-pieces and the costume design is decent, but it all comes down to the clichéd ending — the last nail in the film’s bedazzled coffin.
Steven Antin was probably expecting that by adding a shitload of scantly-clad women, all of which prance around and talk about screwing dudes, that he’d captivate the male audience, whereas Cher and Aguilera would make any females happy. Unfortunately, even an ample amount of breasts couldn’t distract me from the horrors of a poor film. Burlesque is nothing more than a poor man’s peep show.