Before botching the US national anthem and getting arrested for public intoxication, Christina Aguilera had to be considered, if not the most popular, at least a noteworthy favorite among the pop singers of the world. She can actually sing (even if she forgets the words sometimes). She’s beautiful, sexy but not slutty (at least by today’s standards where anyone without a public sex tape is practically a virgin), and has managed to keep selling records for more than a decade. The next logical step in her career as a diva would be a Madonna-esque venture into film. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Burlesque won’t help start any careers, only end them.
Aguilera plays Ali (are the common letters between the two names coincidental?), a stereotypical small-town gal with dreams of making it in the big city as a singer. After saving up what has to be a small fortune, Ali quits her lame waitress gig and heads for Hollywood. After spending a whole day trying to make it big, she becomes transfixed by a bright neon sign and scantily dressed dancer (gasp! In L.A.?) and proceeds to spend $20 of her life’s savings to see a burlesque show at the aptly named club, Burlesque.
Can you tell me what happens next? I bet you can. Yes, Ali gets a job as a waitress at the club. Then she wows everyone with her dedication and talent, eventually making it to the big stage. And yes, you even knew she would find love in the friendly bartender with musical dreams all his own. Obviously, you know all this because it’s been done about 1,000 times before. What you may not expect, though, is how much writer/director Steve Antin gets wrong about this timeless story.
First off, if you’re going to make a movie with multiple songs, lengthy dance numbers, and substantial choreography, you should probably just go ahead and make it a musical. Burlesque is not a musical. It’s a movie featuring several musical performances. That is to say, none of the characters spontaneously break out in song. Instead, they only cover previously recorded songs on stage in front of a crowd. There are a couple of original numbers, but even those are crudely crammed into coherence within the world of the film.
I don’t know if this decision was a conscious effort by the filmmakers to cater to the younger, musical-loathing crowd, or a massive gaffe in the writing process. Frankly, with all the other mistakes in Burlesque, I could believe both. Either way, the music is just plain bad. It takes a ton of time, tells us nothing about the characters, and failed to make me even tap my toes.
Also, if you have a stage, why not use it? Sure, there are plenty of show-stopping musical numbers, but they literally stop the show. None of the character’s climaxes take place anywhere near the platform designed specifically to elevate emotions. The closest we come is when Cher wearily trudges to the stage to do a sound check for the next night’s musical number and delivers an old school power ballad. It’s a decent song, but the execution is clunky as hell and she had already expressed the same sentiments minutes ago in boring ol’ dialogue.
Though the wordy exchanges are dull, it does help that most of Cher’s dialogue is shared with the great Stanley Tucci, a man whose talents always outweigh the material benefitting from them. The two are given the occasional goofball, scene-ending banter worth a few chuckles, but the fun is limited to those fleeting moments. Aguilera does her part with the vocals, but it’s when she’s offstage and not singing that her talent comes into question. Watching Ali and roommate Jack (Cam Gigendet of The O.C. fame) flirt, fight, and fall for each other is just painful. Each of the actors seems to be doing their own thing all the time and chemistry is never a priority.
The two romantic leads actually personify the main problem with Burlesque perfectly. While both sport a pretty package, there’s nothing underneath to enjoy. Antin even fails at letting his audience revel in the campy opportunities provided by film. Though it’s never a good sign when the most a film can hope for is being so bad it’s kind of good, some movies pull it off (Snakes on a Plane, is a recent example that tried to accomplish this and did). Such is not the case here. By keeping all the drama small, internal, or timid (how does a movie with this title end up rated PG-13? Come on!), Burlesque misses its miniscule opportunity to put on a respectable show.
For those of you out there content to watch relatively simple music videos, you’ll be happy with the disc’s central bonus feature: six cuts of the entire songs from the movie. There’s nothing new here (bar one deleted scene), but if you desperately wanted to hear and see the full version of “Long John Blues” then you’ll be happy. Other extras include an alternate opening far better than the actual opening – it’s a simple recut using existing footage, but it serves as a nice reminder of what a smart-minded, involved editor can do for a film. The blooper reel is enjoyable standard fare, but I was disappointed in the lack of footage from the dance routines.