Saturday, December 4, 2010


Fred Astaire used to require that his dance scenes were photographed with minimum edits and camera angles to ensure that the audience would be able to tell he was actually dancing.  Decades later, the idea of cinematic song and dance is such a cluttered incoherent thing.  In 2010, Burlesque, written and director by Steve Antin (who laughs in the face of logic), is a bawdy, trashy, entirely watchable amalgam of Cabaret, Showgirls, a half a million music videos, the Pussycat Dolls posing, and American Idol song stylings, blended together into this strange gay man's fantasy pairing of Christina Aguilera and Cher.  However, it is a odd, and strange time piece that the idea of Astaire's way of story still exists, but his level of dance to too old-hat these days.  Antin and team jump cut the hell out of every musical number, desperately jazzing it up to keep us entertained, that it feels too strenuous; he's trying too hard to deliver a campy classic; this generation's Rocky Horror Picture Show-- too bad it's just such a mess, and in that weird middle of the road kind of way.  Burlesque is too tacky to be taken seriously as the next best musical, but too competently made to be a total Mariah Carey's Glitter disaster.

The setup is simple-- Ali (Aguilera) is a small time, good time Iowa girl drifting away as a waitress, squandering her Aguilera-esque big time voice.  She comes to Hollywood, all glittery-eyed at dance club, simply called "Burlesque," which is owned by Tess, who looks and acts a whole lot like Cher.  We're all meant to bask in the diva union of old school and new; Aguileran monosyllabic song screeching and Cher being Cher.  Ali in Hollywood starts in, working her way from barkeep to background dancer to headliner.  She's torn between good boy Jack (Cam Gigandent) and bad boy businessman Marcus (Eric Dane.)  To make it all the more convoluted, and predictable, Cher's club is going under; 100 years of filmmaking and musicals still can't get over the whole lets-put-on-a-show-to-save-the-farm routine.  Backstage, Ali spars All About Eve\Showgirls style with the club's performing trollop, played with a nice bitchy snark by Kristen Bell, while Stanley Tucci redoes his Devil Wears Prada act as Cher's gay assistant, and Alan Cumming creeping in now and again reprising his Cabaret emcee role.

And yet in the same way that it's a tacky, decidedly silly movie, there's still an oddly thrilling aspect to it, waiting for the thing to crumble.  Never boring, Burlesque wants to provide pure spectacle.  Antin and company want to please.  Most of the songs are fairly terrible, more in tune to our iPod, American Idol generation than anything else.  Why create something, when you can just mimic-- that's a current musical philosophy, is it not?  Cher in her warbly, Vegas nightclub way, welcomes us to "Burlesque," hoping to elicit the same Cabaret-like cheer, instead it feels redundant, not that she's not selling it like an old pro.  She has a mid-movie song, proclaiming "we haven't seen the last of her,' and while it's been done, it works not because the song is any good (it's the same old hokey variation, that Dianne Warren typically provides) but because Cher, the diva and once and future titan works it with her utter Cher-ness it's hard not to sway along.  Remember this woman with the odd voice and strange face was once a serious actress (Silkwood, Mask, Moonstruck.)  And while Aguilera probably shouldn't be trying out for Lady MacBeth anytime soon, it's far from the disaster it feels it could have been-- she's got a bit of flair and timing.  All in keeping with the film's "it's all business" approach to song and dance.  C+

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