Thursday, December 9, 2010

Quick Look: BURLESQUE

The gaudy, bedazzled showbiz musical Burlesque, directed by Steve Antin, is Cabaret by way of Showgirls without the art of the former or the sleaze of the latter. It’s not good enough, but it’s not bad enough either. It fails to climb to the delirious heights of slaphappy camp to which it so clearly aspires. Pop star Christina Aguilera is in her film debut as a young Midwestern girl who heads off to Hollywood to become a star. It’s the kind of gee-whiz cliché that only works if the actress is charming. Aguilera, despite her considerable singing voice, brings nothing but dead air to her time on screen. The more the film focuses on her, the worse it gets. Luckily, her dream gets downgraded fairly quickly once she stumbles into a neo-burlesque club lorded over by its diva owner (Cher). The club is a kind of vaguely defined place with a sassy doorman (an overlooked Alan Cumming), a sassy assistant (the always welcome Stanley Tucci), a sassy bartender (Cam Gigandet), a sassy prima donna (Kristen Bell), and a sleazy regular (Eric Dane). It’s purple and glittery, but there’s no sense of atmosphere or style. The filmmakers may be in love with this place, but there’s no sense of why Aguilera wants so badly to be a part of it, or why we should care that this place is in financial trouble. Antin shoots in such a woozy cheap music video style that any sense of space and time is quickly negated. The numbers performed on the stage take on a nonsensical sheen, chopped up into little pieces that undermine any sense that these are actual performances. And, of course, working against the fun is the plot’s primary focus on the dreams and ambitions, vague as they are, of their dull leading lady. Making Aguilera seem all the worse, Cher, the singer-turned-actress who won an Oscar for the lovely Moonstruck and held her own against Meryl Streep in Silkwood, proves that, despite some recently developed facial mobility problems, she still commands attention. There’s exactly one remarkable moment in the film that finds Cher, all by herself, belting out a ballad that serves as a declaration and reminder of why she was a star in the first place and why she's better than the film she's in.

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