REVIEW: A Little Story Hardly Gets in the Way of Burlesque's Big, Dumb Dazzle

Movieline Score:

With its trailer alone, Burlesque has already gotten tons of mileage out of its obvious camp value: You don't put Cher in a movie these days -- in a glitter mini-tuxedo, no less -- if you're angling for the National Board of Review's Dull, Worthy Snoozer of the Year prize.

But what makes Burlesque truly delectable -- for the first half, at least, before its going-nowhere storyline really heads south -- is its less obvious camp value. The way, for example, the little farmgirl with big dreams played by Christina Aguilera steps into a tiny, seedy Los Angeles club and witnesses a floor show that's half Weimar Berlin, half Solid Gold Dancers; the way a bitchy entertainer named Nikki (played by a cool-struttin' Kristen Bell) wears the kind of ringletty, teased 'do that hasn't been seen since the days of Dark Shadows; the case the movie makes, ardently but wordlessly, for the unassailable truth that circle shapes placed over nipples are so much sexier than triangular ones. (And why is that, exactly?) Burlesque was clearly made by people who have been deeply influenced by old Frederick's of Hollywood catalogs, so-bad-it's-good '70s TV and Joey Heatherton mattress commercials. At last, a picture made by people whose priorities -- if nothing else -- are straight.

Director Steve Antin, in his feature debut, signals his intentions loud and clear in the first 10 minutes. Aguilera's Ali, fed up with being treated badly at her truckstop-waitressing job, plunks one ratty platform shoe on the hard back of her suitcase -- it hits with a decisive thud. She's gonna strap on those platforms and wobble -- picking her way across a gravel-lined trailer park, that hard-backed suitcase in hand -- right out of town and straight into Hollywood. OK, Ali is enough of a realist to know she can't walk to L.A. So she takes the bus: Her sleepy eyes flutter open just as the Hollywood sign comes into view.

Ali will be all right. We know she can sing, because when she opens her mouth, melisma comes out -- the girl can't help it. And if you can walk on gravel in platform shoes, it's a good bet you can bump and grind on a stage the size of a cocktail table. Which is why, when Ali arrives at that dank little club and begs its owner, Tess (played by Cher), for a shot at stardom, you can bet she'll eventually blow the roof off the joint. But not before some tears, and a few bucketfuls of tinsel confetti, are shed.

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  • There's just one thing I don't understand about the premise of this movie: how is being the lead in some LA club becoming a "star"? I mean, in Showgirls, one can kinda squint and see that the headliner of a big Vegas act is a "star," but here? It's kinda hard.

  • Andy says:

    A wonderful review, Stephanie. I feel the same way about Cher and she's the only reason why I'd watch a film like that.
    I might watch it at home when it comes to DVD so I can turn down the volume when Christina sings. I wish she would just relax a little when she sings - the sound of pressure or tension usually coming from her throat I find hard to listen to - but that's a common phenomenon among the reigning queens of big corporate music biz.
    Beyoncé, the thin-voiced Rhianna and many others - they all rely on the melisma as their preferred (and only?) weapon of choice when it comes to evoke something that has to have the "HUGE DRAMA!" sign attached for some reason. I find them all hard to listen to. But I'm off-topic here. Anyway, thanks for showing some love for the truly lovely Cher.