I got to head to an early screening of Burlesque last week, the Cher/Christina musical that I've been excited to see for months on end. A star vehicle for both a returning icon and another whose recent pop comeback was something of a damp squib this film has had "future camp classic" written all over it. In big glittery, soft focus letters.
The plot is more threadbare then the pearl dress Xtina slinks about on stage in at one point. Christina plays Ali, a country bumpkin who blows into L.A. and soon finds herself in a Burlesque lounge that she is only gagging to sing for. Despite the fact that only ringmistress Tess actually sings in the club. The rest of the girls lipsync and dance along to show tunes, making some of the early performances look like acts from particularly athletic drag queens.
Still Christina auditions for the show, gets a part as a dancer but soon gets those vocal chords stretched and blows everyone away, with Cher giving her best surprised face on seeing her sing her heart out:
What follows is mish mash of tepid love story, enjoyable but unfulfilling banter between Cher & Stanley Tucci and a parade of tunes that sound a bit like the last Christina album and a bit like the one before it. Back to Bionic Basics if you will.
The pace of the film is off. Big moments feel rushed like the whole thing is in a hurry to get somewhere. But then what feels like forever is spent on inconsequential moments that were obviously meant to build up the characters but fall flat due to a poor script. The cast, for the most part are great and are clearly trying to work with material that doesn't do them justice. Despite her botoxed face painfully limiting her ability to really act Cher manages to make a decent impression and her easy going banter with Tucci is fun to watch. Kristen Bell does a fine job of chewing so much scenery she nearly chokes and Christina does a decent job for her first time in a major role.
The musical numbers are slickly edited but the fact that they never leave the stage of the club means that it feels like you're watching a string of music videos as opposed to proper musical set pieces. At times like these you notice how oddly low budget the whole enterprise is. Much is made of how L.A. is this magical city that Ali escapes to but we never really see it, except in unintentionally hilarious scenes where Ali finger snaps along to her iPod as a form of "rehearsal" (if you saw someone do this on the street you would not think "there goes a successful Burlesque performer". You'd think "that person is a nut job")
The actual "burlesque" nature of this is quite questionable. It's all very Pussycat Dolls (Robin Antin the founder of the dance troupe turned pop sensation is the sister of the film's writer/director Steve Antin) meaning the choreography, while enjoyable, is basically hip hop video booty popping meets coquettish popstar dance moves with a dash of jazz hands for a bit of flavour. Still it's no surprise really. Christina famously performed with the troupe when they were picking up serious heat around L.A. in the early 2000s and she channels much of that throughout the film.
Throw in a pile of unconvincing wigs on top of Cher and Xtina's heads, more soft focus than you could shake a Botox needle at and plenty of blatant plugs for Patron Tequila (the fact that Robin Antin had a PCD style girl group sing a song about the brand in 2009 is hardly coincidence!) and Burlesque adds up to be one mess of a movie. It also turns out to be hilariously entertaining with it and if you need some quality campy laughs this Christmas this movie will surely make you happy.
Burlesque is released here on the 17th of December while the soundtrack is out now.