The term "burlesque," for the uninitiated, refers to a specific brand of female striptease that incorporates flamboyant costumes, elaborate choreography, kitschy songs, and various other elements to which heterosexual men are largely indifferent. But it's wildly popular in other circles -- so much so, in fact, that it has earned its very own film, titled, oddly enough, Burlesque.
Written and directed by music video veteran Steven Antin, Burlesque is fashioned loosely as a camp homage to the 2000 film Coyote Ugly. Stage and screen legend Cher, brought to life by an innovative blend of animatronics and CGI, stars as Tess, the brash, tough-as-nails proprietress of Hollywood's almost unbearably fabulous Burlesque Lounge. Despite the obvious popularity of its musical revue, the club is plagued by money problems, which makes it the target of acquisitive real estate developer Marcus Gerber (Eric Dane), a man whose name alone carries all sorts of ominous Teutonic implications. But Tess, determined diva that she is, refuses to sell. She's not about to let years of gross financial mismanagement kill her dream of providing a haven where scantily clad women can dance provocatively without fear of encountering men who'd like to sleep with them.
Potential salvation arrives in the luminous, top-heavy form of Iowa-bred Ali (Christina Aguilera), a vision of wide-eyed innocence and vaulting ambition in soft focus. Immediately upon entering the Lounge, she is struck by the sudden realization that her lifelong dream is to become a burlesque superstar. Unfortunately, Tess doesn't initially recognize Ali's potential, and the poor girl is forced to slum it as a cocktail waitress in the bar area, where she's embraced by the club's straightgay bartender Jack (Cam Gigandet), a southern transplant whose own showbiz dream involves making it as a songwriter. (In accordance with songwriter tradition, he takes pains to ensure that every inch of his chiseled frame is bronzed and waxed. Just like Bernie Taupin.) In her free time, Ali devotes herself to the study of burlesque, and when her opportunity arises, she seizes it without hesitation.
Burlesque is principally the Cher and Christina Show, and the film thrives when their respective talents are on display. ("Talents," obviously, gaining a dual meaning in regards to Aguilera.) Surrounding them are a smattering of stock characters pursuing forgettable story arcs, the lone exception being the always excellent Stanley Tucci, adding a pinkish hue to his incomparable wit in the role of Sean, Tess's long-suffering, boa-clad second-in-command. He and co-star Alan Cumming are two sides of the same sassy coin, but Cumming is little more than a bitchy bit player in Burlesque, poking his head into the frame on occasion to deliver a biting one-liner. Then again, that description could apply to any number of characters in the film.
It appears that Antin, true to his music-video pedigree, conceived of Burlesque with the song-and-dance pieces in mind first, then set about building a story around them. (The opposite is generally preferred.) The musical set pieces are lavish, sexy, and at times truly dazzling, especially when Aguilera takes the stage, but they do little to advance the film's plot. Consequently, Burlesque's running time swells to almost two hours to satisfy the demands of a story that, frankly, seem hardly worthy of such an effort.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 stars.