Directed By: Steve Antin
Starring: Christina Aguilera, Cher, Cam Gigandet, Kristen Bell, Julianne Hough, Eric Dane, Alan Cumming, Peter Gallagher, Stanley Tucci, Dianna Agron
It’s great to put your assets to good use, but if you want your film to offer an entire package, other elements need to be considered. In the case of Burlesque, writer-director Steve Antin has Christina Aguilera on the brain and nothing more. Clearly this tunnel vision works well when it come to vocals, but just about every other component is practically ignored. As good as her voice is, if you don’t have the proper camerawork to capture the action, adequate editing to make the visuals comprehensible or a well-developed story to engage viewers, you might as well have just made a CD, not a feature film.
Burlesque stars Aguilera as Ali, a small-town waitress who’s fed up with her minimal existence and craves the spotlight. She follows her dreams straight to Los Angeles, but quickly learns that a city change doesn’t mean instant success. After a number of failed auditions, Ali comes across The Burlesque, a nightclub with “The best views on the Sunset Strip.” The place is owned and run by Tess (Cher) with the help of her ex-husband Vince (Peter Gallagher) and loyal assistant Sean (Stanley Tucci). A barrage of girls hit the stage each night to wow the crowd with dance and lip-synching routines. Unfortunately, even there, a job doesn’t come easy. After being rejected by Tess, Ali takes it upon herself to go to work for the bartender, Jack (Cam Gigandet).
Their relationship goes from business to personal when her apartment is ransacked and she’s forced to bunk down at his place. The only thing stifling this budding romance is Jack’s fiancée who happens to be out of town for a few months. As things heat up at home, they heat up at work, too. Ali finally gets her chance to audition to dance on stage and makes the cut. When a music malfunction mutes the vocals, Ali takes it upon herself to sing the tune and blows away not only the audience, but Tess as well.
The only thing the slightest bit fresh about Burlesque is well, Burlesque. The club makes for a fantastic setting and the style of entertainment is absolutely mesmerizing, but Antin completely dilutes the concept with every “small town gal moving to the big city” cliché imaginable. Not only is Ali a naïve girl from Iowa, she’s a struggling waitress who’s seemingly all alone in this big world and happens to harbor an immense amount of talent that, of course, is discovered and finally appreciated. Can you say Coyote Ugly? In fact, the scene during which Ali returns home to find her apartment in ruins and secret stash of cash missing is eerily similar to poor Violet Sandford’s situation in that 2000 film. Keeping with the Coyote Ugly connection, Tess is basically the bar owner Lil, but with a much deeper voice and a plastic face. And we can’t forget our quintessential bitch determined to make the newcomer’s assimilation as difficult as possible. In Coyote Ugly it was Rachel and in Burlesque we get Kristen Bell as Nikki.
It’s one thing to reuse an overused concept, but at least make some sort of attempt to spice it up a bit. The only effort Antin seems to have made was setting his film in the club. Sadly, there’s just so long the visuals are able to hold your attention. The story is painfully predictable and not engaging in the least and that latter point is largely due to the miscast lead.
Yes, Aguilera is a great musical performer, but she can’t act. Sitting through Burlesque is kind of like having whiplash every ten minutes. Just when the story is about to put you to sleep, she belts out an outrageous tune accompanied by a mesmerizing dance routine. There are two slower ballads at the end of the film that flop due to their connection to the story, but otherwise, every song is quite enjoyable. However, what keeps these moments merely enjoyable and not wildly entertaining is poor camerawork. You’d think Antin’s experience directing music videos would have made this portion of the project easy, but it’s the musical moments that are the most awkwardly shot and edited parts of the film. In fact, some tunes are so poorly covered, it’s distracting.
Amongst these gargantuan problems, Burlesque has a few that could have been easy fixes. First off, there’s Aguilera. A song in the film featuring the singer? Fine, but she is not a leading actress. Antin had a perfectly capable star right on his set, Bell. She’s absolutely wasted in the role of Nikki, the club’s star dancer with a drinking problem. Even though her character is weakly represented throughout the film, Bell manages to make more of a connection to the audience than Aguilera who’s on the screen 90% of the time. Cher, on the other hand, fairs a little better. It’s actually quite impressive that Cher can express so much emotion without moving her facial muscles. She makes for a great stern yet motherly figure and her relationship with her employees is quite endearing.
Antin certainly tries and succeeds in some respects, but overall, this is just a cheap excuse for a musical. Burlesque actually seems to suffer from the same problem most 3D films grapple with, an overreliance on the added element, which ultimately turns it into a gimmick. Musicals are supposed to incorporate the songs into the film in a way that they enhance the story. Perhaps this is just because the story is so awful, but in Burlesque, the tunes seem to be there solely for entertainment and nothing more. Everything in this film is delivered at face value. It’s the story of a small town girl moving to LA, it’s a musical and it features two singing stars. As long as you don’t mind depth being devoid from this equation, Burlesque can offer some mindless entertainment for 100 minutes, but nothing more.
By Perri Nemiroff