Burlesque tells the unique, riveting tale of a small-town girl with big dreams, who hops off a bus in Hollywood and ascends to stardom. Centered on a burlesque themed nightclub, in which our protagonist finds a mentor and faces off with a rival as she claws her way to the top, the movie breaks bold new cinematic ground and will surely live on in the hearts and minds of all those who see it.

Oh, who am I kidding? In fact, this dreary compilation of abysmal dialogue, stodgy directing and lots of plastic (Christina Aguilera’s acting, Cher’s face) is a tough sit, a brain dead construct that trades in absurd clichés and obvious stereotypes. Showgirls comes to mind, though at least that infamous flop prominently featured Joe Ezterhas’ sleazy nuttiness.

Burlesque is Showgirls without the show, a restrained, sanitized piece that functions as nothing more than a vehicle for what a character played by Kristen Bell calls Aguilera’s “mutant lungs.” An extended montage centered on performances of such standards as “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” and bland “making it in Hollywood” snippets, the movie’s sole entertainment value lies in its explosions of bad dialogue and broadly telegraphed “drama.”

This is the kind of movie in which characters actually say things like, “Remember all those times I held your hair back as you vomited everything but your memories.” It’s the kind of movie in which the protagonist arrives at a fancy Hollywood Hills mansion, looks out at a view of the city below and says “That’s the most beautiful view of L.A. I’ve ever seen.” Or, one character applies makeup to another, the latter turns, looks at her reflection and exclaims, “Wow.” No line is too sloppy and no dramatic conceit too overwrought for writer-director Steve Antin.

Aguilera’s Ali tramples over everyone she meets on her brazen quest to the top of the club’s food chain. Remarkably, dominating a seedy, financially insolvent nightclub appears to have been her goal in making the trek out west, as she never expresses the slightest interest in advancing her career past that point. Earnest to the point of supreme irritation, filled with repellent moxie, she grows more and more unlikable as the picture rolls on, before reaching the apex of her detestability: receiving fancy, gold encrusted shoes as a gift and responding with grotesque, unrestrained glee.

The movie works best during the few minutes Aguilera is not onscreen, though the primary source of intrigue is the fact that Cher’s face doesn’t really move when she talks. The Oscar winner is 64 and doesn’t look a day over 30, but she speaks as if her mouth were crammed with marbles and her visage frozen shut. Stanley Tucci does the gay assistant thing as best he can, though he’s fallen a long way from the last time he practiced his shtick — in the offices of Miranda Priestly, for the infinitely better ladder-climber story The Devil Wears Prada.

Burlesque is the clunker of the holiday season, an egocentric demo reel of halfhearted faux-old-fashioned images of Aguilera crooning those mutant lungs out in various states of undress. There’s no discernible atmosphere, no broader sense of the rhythms of life outside the club and no subtlety applied to the backstage conflicts. The characters are largely despicable, the production design grim and cluttered, the cinematography overly flashy, applying the much-chagrined MTV aesthetic to the oldest, most tired tale in the book.

Other than that, it’s a winner!

The Upside: You’ll definitely laugh at Burlesque. You might even laugh at it enough that you have a grand time watching it.

Downside: It’s torturous nonsense, in most every way.

On the Side: The movie is Christina Aguilera’s first starring role, and probably her last.


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