If you’re thinking pasties and poles when mulling about the movie Burlesque and issues around truth in advertising, forget about it. This PG-13 contemporary rhinestone retro-romp is basically sexual innuendo with garments. And only updated in the sense of a garish audience musical overload onstage, and Bugsby Berkeley with Botox.
Christina Aguilera switches career choices a bit as Ali, a not at all believable Iowa trailer park country girl and truckstop dive waitress. After being stiffed repeatedly in wages by the boss, Ali cleans out the cash register and grabs a one way bus ride to LA to pursue, you guessed it.
When a bottom feeder burlesque joint on Sunset Boulevard catches her eye, Ali basically hires herself as a pretend barmaid on the sly, in a persistent ploy to make it into the chorus line and impress the initially underwhelmed proprietor, Tess (Cher). Who has her own problems at the moment, warding off a hostile real estate gentrification takeover, or something like that.
Simultaneously glitzy and tacky, and with rehashed plot points hardly less trite and overblown than the musical numbers, Burlesque struggles with an identity crisis of its own. Which seems to veer between thinking of itself as a musical, or alternately as a sort of big screen American Idol in reverse.
That is, a groomed stage pro like Aguilera working hard at pulling off playing a make believe amateur, on fast forward to instant stardom. And with a generally less daunting assignment that entails lots of swooning in the shadows, when not balancing cocktail trays. Though appearing to venture in the opposite direction, is first time Burlesque screenwriter and filmmaker Steve Antin, faking mastery of the cinematic craft none too successfully. While Alan Cumming as a cameo-ish vaudeville funnyman relegated to the margins of this movie and doing what he always does best, somehow upstages everybody.
Burlesque boasts between raucous musical numbers and incessant bling, a story which leaves room for doubt as to whether we’re supposed to be laughing along with it or at it. In addition to Ali’s supersonic rise to the billed main attraction spotlight as replacement for a chorus girl (Kristen Bell) who’s conveniently alcoholic and insubordinate. And why does there always have to be an actress predictably barfing on cue to indicate pregnancy, without benefit of any medical diagnosis.
But Bell in her thankless role as the spiteful rival, does get the best line in the movie. ‘I don’t know why everyone is having such a conniption over her.’
1 [out of 4] stars