Musicals are wonderful. From George Stevens’ 1936 classic Swing Time to 2001’s Moulin Rouge, my love for musicals knows no bounds. As I sat down to watch the latest genre effort, Burlesque, I hoped for the best. Basically a mash up of Cabaret and Chicago, Burlesque is snappy, energetic and enthusiastic. It’s a phantasmagoric display of colors and costumes. And it’s also as boring as all get out.
Christina Aguilera plays Ali, an Iowa girl who moves out to Los Angeles with the hopes of hitting it big. On her job search, she comes across a Burlesque club and immediately falls in love with it, wishing for nothing more than to be up on that stage performing for the adoring crowd. However, the club’s owner, Tess, played by Cher, refuses to give her that chance. But when she learns she is about to lose her club to the bank unless able to raise a certain amount of money, she changes her mind and finds that Ali is a force to be reckoned with. She can sing, she can dance, she is beautiful and she becomes the talk of the town.
Burlesque’s plot resembles any other film where a newfound talent brings a business back from the brink of bankruptcy. It’s a story mechanic that has been done to death, but in the right hands it can still work. If it’s believable enough, I can look past it and enjoy the movie for what it is, but there’s nothing in Christina Aguilera that makes me believe she would garner this kind of attention. Aside from the fact that she isn’t a very good actress, which was to be expected, she isn’t particularly fun to watch as a singer either. She has a way of exaggerating her mannerisms to the point where you can’t tell whether she’s really into the song or having some sort of rhythmic seizure.
Still, the songs aren’t bad. It’s everything in between that stings the most. The dialogue, while sometimes humorously blunt, is usually just plain bad and it includes some of the most overly cloying exchanges since the last Nicholas Sparks film adaptation. Perhaps most egregious is its contrivances. As per usual with movies like this, a romance buds between Ali and Jack, played by Cam Gigandet. To get them together, the filmmakers force in one quick scene that shows Ali’s hotel room ransacked. Since she now has nowhere to go, Jack takes her in. In a way, all scenes in every movie set up the next because they are telling a story, but a good movie makes the progression feel natural. Burlesque doesn’t.
Burlesque is a musical only in the sense that it has musical numbers, but it fails to capture the spirit of the best in the genre. Not only are the songs not memorable, some don’t even fit naturally into the movie. It sometimes felt like they had written songs for the film and couldn’t figure out a natural way to include them, so they placed them around at random. The best example comes midway through when Tess, as she is about to leave the club for the night, decides instead to practice a new number, which makes no sense since she is not a performer at her club. I guess the mentality of the filmmakers was, “We have Cher. Why not let her sing?”
Although Aguilera’s performance is wooden and insincere, everyone else is lively and fun. The supporting cast, which includes Kristen Bell, Eric Dane, Alan Cumming and the great Stanley Tucci, provide some much needed withdraw from the sappy main story and stilted, if not nonexistent, chemistry between Aguilera and Gigandet. When focusing on these characters, there is some charm to be found, but in a musical as soulless as Burlesque, that counts for very little.
Burlesque receives 1.5/5