(2010)2.5Perry SeibertCher has altered her face into something so abnormal that she's pretty much incapable of playing a regular person. Luckily, Burlesque director/writer Steve Antin isn't terribly interested in making his movie about regular people, and he's managed to find exactly the right tone to make his ridiculously flashy backstage musical work.
Although the former Mrs. Bono is certainly the heart and soul of Burlesque, the star is Christina Aguilera, who plays Ali, the stereotypical Midwestern girl who dreams of making it as a singer and dancer in the big city. She packs up, moves to L.A., and hustles her way into a waitressing gig at Burlesque, a nightclub run by the demanding Tess (Cher) along with her gay co-manager, Sean (Stanley Tucci). Quickly Ali teaches herself the various routines performed by the club's crew of dancers, but her attempts to make it into the cast are shot down, especially by the club's bitchy, alcoholic star, Nikki (Kristen Bell).
Of course there's a love interest as well. Ali befriends Jack (Cam Gigandet), one of the bartenders at the club, eventually moving in with him even though he's happily engaged to a woman living in New York City. And while it's obvious that they're perfect for each other, Marcus (Eric Dane) -- a millionaire with an eye for real estate and fine women -- starts putting the moves on her while trying to buy the financially struggling club from Tess.
There are many laughs in Burlesque, and most of them are intentional. Just about everyone in the cast is on the same page; they understand exactly the kind of movie they're making and relish the opportunity to play theatrical -- though never exactly over-the-top -- stereotypes. The lone exception is Aguilera, who is a genuinely formidable singing talent. Her soulful growl has an intensity and a focus that demands your attention, but her acting doesn't have any of that command. When Ali is alone with Jack, it's easy to stop paying attention to the movie.
Luckily, the other actors really savor the scenery they get to chew. Cher may no longer resemble her former self (from some angles Tess' face brings to mind the killer's mask from Scream smeared with heavy makeup), but the woman is a born performer who understands exactly what's expected of her. Her catty one-liners land dependably, although they lack the sparkle and wit of Stanley Tucci's put-downs -- unsurprisingly, he's the best thing in the movie. Kristen Bell dives head-first into the role of the club's resident mean girl, and it's a kick to watch her character face off against Cher's.
Burlesque certainly won't appeal to everyone, but it has integrity and it's competently made. That may sound like faint praise, but it's not meant to. Antin knows how to shoot dancers, he manages to squeeze the effortlessly perverse Alan Cumming into a too-brief cameo, and the soundtrack is loaded with numbers that allow Ali to show off what Nikki refers to as her "mutant lungs." Sure, the whole thing is obvious and silly and ridiculous, but Burlesque is really comfortable in its own skin.