In 'Burlesque,' Christina Aguilera is Ali, a small town gal who heads for Los Angeles looking for her big break. She's got a photo of her dead mother in her suitcase, a pair of uncomfortable-looking heels on her feet and a pair of pipes that belie her tiny frame. She stumbles upon The Burlesque Lounge, a decadent place where costumed ladies lip sync to classic songs and perform choreographed dances for a cool crowd and decides that is the one and only place for her in all of L.A. She becomes friends with the bartender (Cam Gigandet) and, because she's so darn plucky, she begins serving drinks to patrons when she sees that the waitress is off her game. With her high-heeled foot wedged in the door, she bides her time to become a dancer.
'Burlesque' takes that old L.A. story and throws in some romantic drama (Gigandet and the best product placement I've ever seen); a boozy, bitchy star (Kristen Bell); the club's growing financial troubles; a skeevy businessman (Eric Dane) who has a variety of tempting offers on the table; and the glam goddess former dancer who owns the joint, a tough broad who shows her girls how to put on makeup and gives them advice and doesn't take any crap. And that, my friends, is Cher.
Cher and Stanley Tucci, who plays her best friend, own the movie. Tucci is, of course, wonderful, because he's Stanley Tucci, and even when he's playing the child predator next door with a terrible hair piece, he still gets nominated for an Oscar. (To those who say his role is a gay stereotype, I say that sleeping with the wedding DJ and not being able to remember his name the next morning or vice versa is an experience not limited by preference or gender.) And Cher is Cher. If you love Cher, this movie is for you.
The rest of the cast is mediocre. Aguilera can sing, and she can dance, but she cannot act. Like, at all. Gigandet is good at having nice abs and wearing eyeliner. Peter Gallagher plays the ex-husband of Tess (Cher) and the co-owner of the club; he looks sweaty and like he needs a comb, and that's pretty much the extent of his performance. Alan Cumming, who played the louche Emcee in 'Cabaret' on Broadway, is a pleasant and slightly naughty surprise. The writing is silly -- "I will not be upstaged by some chick with mutant lungs!" fumes Nikki (Bell) -- but we're not here for the writing. We're here for the spectacle. And it is indeed a glittery, rhinestone-encrusted, red-lipsticked, false-eyelashed spectacle. It's the kind of group experience that 'Sex and the City 2' was going for. People clapped for the musical numbers and cheered for Cher. One audience member urged Ali, "Go with him! I would!"
Although the trailer presents 'Burlesque' as a PG-13 'Showgirls,' it isn't even close. 'Showgirls' is a grotesque, ridiculous and cruel movie. It's fashionable to regard it as a cult movie, but honestly I'd like to punch the next person who makes a "Ver-sayce" joke in the nose. What greater purpose does it serve to linger on the brutal attack and rape of one of its characters? Go rent 'Irreversible' and get back to me. 'Burlesque,' on the other hand, is more like a Harlequin romance, the kind girls borrow from their mothers and share among themselves.
The term burlesque is a misnomer here; there is one scene where Ali performs an awkward fan dance, but it is more of a cabaret. The décor and the club's inhabitants borrow heavily from the punk cabaret scene, but instead of pasties and a little bump 'n' grind, 'Burlesque' offers high-end lingerie or fetish-y outfits and musical numbers like "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend." Although there are winks and nods to movie musicals like 'Cabaret,' 'A Chorus Line,' and 'Gypsy,' it doesn't aspire to those heights. 'Burlesque' is not a great movie -- it might not even be a good movie -- but it is a ridiculously fun movie.