Somewhere along the way writer-director Steve Antin must’ve looked at the success his sister Robin was having with her burlesque troupe, The Pussycat Dolls, and thought, Hey, that’d be a hell of a movie! Stir in some “Showgirls,” cast Christina Aguilera in the lead (did you see her in that “Lady Marmalade" video? She is burlesque!). Just add water, makes its own sauce.
Aguilera plays Ali Rose, a struggling waitress from nowhere, Iowa, who’s determined to be a star. After a long day of pounding the pavement of LA (Hey, Ali, nobody walks in LA) looking for her big break, she stumbles upon Burlesque, a club on the Sunset Strip. Once inside she finds a magical wonderland where she wants to make all her dreams come true.
She soon picks up a cocktail tray and starts slinging drinks until she gets her shot. Along the way to her inevitable stardom she hits almost every plot point in “Showgirls”: the robbery that sets her back, the love interest with another blonde in tow, a wealthy, powerful and nefarious suitor, an arch-nemesis star performer… it’s insane.
There are a million things wrong with “Burlesque,” from the terrible dialogue to the paint-by-numbers plot to some heroically bad casting. But in the end, the most unfortunate thing about it, ironically, is that it’s not bad enough. What makes “Showgirls” such an enduring catastrophe is a combination of gratuitous nudity and shockingly unapologetic misogyny. But “Burlesque” his been stripped of all that prurience. It’s a crazy world we’re living in when a lack of skin and hate are what keep a movie from being entertaining.
The songs Aguilera performs progress from classics and standards to newer material that is clearly intended to entice her younger fans to buy the soundtrack. And lest Cher fans feel left out, she takes the spotlight for one of the most contrived moments in movie musical history to belt out her own song.
Just when you think you’ve survived the film’s marketing blitz, it slowly becomes obvious that the movie has a major product placement sponsor in the liquor industry—either that or everyone in the world of burlesque prefers the same drink.
Considering the script she had to work with, it seems unfair to criticize Aguilera’s acting chops, but if “Burlesque” is any indication, she should stick to singing. And who’d’ve guessed five years ago that Justin Timberlake would ever deliver the kind of performance he did in “The Social Network”?
The rest of the cast is a disappointment. Cher isn't good enough to elevate the script, Stanley Tucci is simply doing his “Devil Wears Prada” shtick again, and Eric “McSteamy” Dane and Peter Gallagher make you long for their TV days.
Then there’s Kristen Bell, who may be the most poorly cast actor or actress of 2010. She's been making dubious career choices for some time now, but here a large part of the blame must go to whomever thought, Let’s get Veronica Mars to play the besotted villain in a movie about burlesque! She's beautiful and has a rocking body (as we learned in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"), two key ingredients for a burlesque star. But she is also super cute, like "kitten calendar" cute and as non-threatening as women come. Trying to imagine her "pouring tequila on (her) Cheerios" is beyond impossible.
The only reason to see “Burlesque” is if you just love, love, love Aguilera or Cher. Otherwise you’ll just stagger out bewildered, sad and feeling a little used.