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With so many questionable variables from the outset, starting with its very subject matter; I admit to having some preconceived expectations of what the following film would be.  There was nothing that could possibly have prepared me for the camp fiesta known as Burlesque.  Possibly the greatest midnight movie candidate since The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Burlesque doesn’t pretend to be anything other than the garish, gaudy, cheesefest it has a gay old time being.

There’s nothing remotely original about the story; Christina Aguilera is Ali, a country girl come to the big city full of big dreams only to find herself in a strip club. *Gasp*  I’m sure Alan Cumming’s ersatz Cabaret MC character would tell me to wash under my fingernails with Jägermeister for even hinting that this carnival of ladies dancing suggestively in various states of undress was anything as lowly as a strip club.  No, this is art -- this is Burlesque!  Though for the first hour of the movie, it’s really just a bunch of scantily-clad, model-gorgeous chicks lip-syncing and grinding away in their underwear … and Cher.  What is Cher, Oscar-winner, obvious inspiration for Tangled’s Mother Goethel and icon of ever-youthful fabulosity doing in the middle of this silliness, you ask?  Well, judging by her tinyness, she don’t eat much, but since the Sanctuary catalog went under, something’s gotta fill the fridge.  She plays Tess, the owner of the struggling burlesque club and den mother to her girls, looking mighty well put together for a lady a breath away from official senior citizenship.  Even more bizarrely, what are such talents like Stanley Tucci and Peter Gallagher doing here?  I can only reckon Tucci’s presence as Tess’ love ‘em and leave ‘em BFF was possibly a bargaining tool to keep the actress pacified and not running off the set in horror of what she’d signed up for, and Tucci is playing a gay clothing mistress centered amidst a troupe of barely dressed, nubile dancers.  Win-win!  Gallagher’s appearances are so fleeting, one can tell he’s clocking every minute he’s got to be on the set.  His hair’s even in front of his eyes through most of his rare scenes as if there’s a chance someone won’t recognise him.

Back to the “story”, our young Ali finagles her way onto the stage, and yes, eventually uses her insanely talented, curiously Christina Aguilera-sounding pipes to become the star attraction.  Her sudden “fame” brings her jealousy from a bewigged, barely recognisable Kristen Bell (- Maybe she’s been talking to Peter Gallagher?) and all sorts of attention from rich, handsome men promising the world, but threatening to take away Tess’ venue and put up a zillion dollar condo in its place.  Ladies and gentlemen, I apologise for the huge spoiler, but I must take a moment to note the only film in cinema history where the day is saved by clever use of “air rights”.  Yes, “air rights” will make everything okie dokey in the end and save not only the beloved – now way overpriced – burlesque house, but salvage Ali’s relationship with the amazingly hunky - no way this guy is working behind the bar of a seedy faux strip club - Cam Gigandet.  I predict Gigandet will have many, many spokesman offers from baked goods companies after this film.

And the campiness just overflows:  Despite taking chunks out of Chicago, Showgirls and All About Eve and stealing so many entire bits from Cabaret and Sweet Charity that Bob Fosse should have gotten out of his grave and slapped somebody, strangely, Burlesque provided me with one of the most enjoyable times I’ve had in the cinema this year.  This is a bizarre admission because there’s just so much wrong with the film, which looks more like a very expensive episode of Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll.  This actually makes all sorts of incestuous sense as Burlesque’s director is Steven Antin, brother of Pussycat Dolls’ co-creator (- along with La Aguilera) Robin Antin (- I was scouring the credits for brother Jonathan to turn up as the film’s hairdresser.), and the entire scene that’s being pushed was that which generated the emergence of the Pussycat Dolls years ago.  Burlesque seemed weirdly out of date, since the trend seems to have passed by.  Also, outside of Ali reading some books on the old timey real stars of the Vaudeville specialty, there’s precious little before her big rise in the club (With numbers like “I Am a Good Girl” and the Sally Rand/Mae West tribute, “A Guy What Takes His Time.”) that defines what exactly Burlesque is, concentrating almost solely on the T&A and lip-sync.  The dialog is entirely predictable and consists of eye-rolling clichés or catty rejoinders mostly between Cher and Tucci’s characters.  The reactions when Ali -- in full-on S&M leathers -- finally does get to show off her dulcet tones and literally stops the show are hilarious in their cheesiness.  Burlesque is much less a narrative than a collection of set pieces or karaoke music videos set on one increasingly expensive stage.  Seriously, if they had so many financial troubles all they’d have to do was sell off some of the state-of-the-art lighting and professional-quality sound system and auto tune.  Miss Tess might look great in a bustier, but her money-handling skills need a little work: The prop letter “B” in the final scene could feed a pack of starving orphans for a year.  But back to those music videos; the movie is gorgeously shot and every lady in it, no matter how severe their cosmetic enhancements or immobile their faces may be looks like a goddess.  As I said, Antin takes entire forests out of the Bob Fosse playbook, right down to the choreographer/director’s Mein Herr chair dances, sections of The Rich Man’s Frug and Alan Cumming aping “Two Ladies” from his own Tony-award winning Cabaret revival, but lets don’t let a little plagiarism get us down.  The majority of the songs are fabulous.  Mostly, they all celebrate burlesque, and what it means to be in burlesque, and how sexy one must be to do burlesque, etc., etc. and so on.  Aguilera is the music producer here and a couple of the tunes; “Express” and her closing mash-up of Marilyn Manson on “The Beautiful People” could easily be singles.  There are two standouts in the music department; Ali, in lovely pre-Raphaelite tresses and terribly expensive satin gown belts out the ballad “Bound to You” (Cos it’s what Xtina does best, folks.  There’s a reason Britney was known as the dancer.) intercut with scenes of her new love with the good looking barkeep.  The other side of that coin is the thoroughly awful Cher exposition moment, “You Haven't Seen the Last of Me.”  More like “You Haven’t Seen the Last of This Song.”  I could have had grandkids and come back and this scene would have still been going on.  The whole thing plays while Antin refuses to move the camera off Cher as she warbles endlessly in a darkened room.  The song itself is utterly dreadful, like something scraped off someone’s shoe in the eighties and all incredibly contrived to show Tess off as a “survivor” when her bad money-handling skills get the best of her.  Holy cow, what a buzzkill.  Where would this morbid, wrist-slitting dreck have gone in a show as light and bubbly as we’re supposed to believe a “burly Q” performance is supposed to be?  Feh, back to the fun, and it abounds in this movie, whether hailing from audience’s awestruck disbelief in the production’s cheeky, over-the-top, ‘to hell with critical acclaim’ campiness, or real enjoyment in its ‘let us entertain you’ tunnel-vision focus on great music, absurdly rich visuals and energetic dance numbers (- even if they’re cribbed).

Burlesque is a shamelessly bad good time that should be played at midnight venues with cocktails and hors d'œuvres (or cookies) served, an entire drag court in attendance and those possibly slightly less fabulous along for the ride.

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

November 24th, 2010

 

 

 

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