Burlesque is the art of the tease – suggesting more than you reveal. The film Burlesque, by first time director Steve Antin, is also a bit of a tease, but not in the good sense. It hints at being a musical, a drama of backstage rivalry, and one woman's rise from unknown to star, but never fully succeeds as any; ultimately as half-hearted as the Burlesque performers are dressed.
Pop singer Christina Aguilera makes her big screen debut as Ali, a small town girl from Iowa who escapes to Los Angeles with dreams of making it big. But she's very quickly down on her luck before happening upon the Burlesque night club, the exterior of which opens almost every second scene, lest we forget what movie we're watching.
Ali can't talk club owner Tess (Cher) into giving he a role on or back stage, but she manages to score a job as a waitress, thanks to hunky bartender Jack (Cam Gigandet), who seems to take his styling cues from A Clockwork Orange.
But it's not too long before Ali gets her chance to strut her stuff on the club's stage as a dancer, and when an attempted sabotage by Burlesque's star performer Nikki (Kristen Bell) backfires, revealing the small town girl to have a big voice (the Burlesque performers don't actually sing; that's not what the customers come for), Tess, whose club is in dire financial straits, decides she can build an entirely new show around Ali. And, viola, a star is born.
Christina Aguliera doesn't make the auspicious singer-cum-actress debut which Jennifer Hudson did in Dreamgirls (2006), which took her all the way to the Oscars. Aguilera reminds us that she can indeed sing (“the slut with the mutant lungs”, as Nikki dubs her), belting out number after rather forgettable number in varying degrees of undress, although showing far less skin than she did in her 2002 video for Dirrty. Aguilera doesn't embarrass herself but she's no actress.
Cher, on the otherhand, who made a similar, albeit it far more successful transition many moons ago, really should know – and provide – better. With her bored delivery and surgically altered face, Cher virtually sleep walks through the film, rousing briefly to belt out the Diane Warren-penned You Haven't Seen The Last of Me. And no doubt we haven't, with the song likely to be nominated for an Oscar with Cher on-hand to belt it out once more.
The real star of Burlesque is Stanley Tucci, who, as Tess's right hand man and costumier, Sean, gets all the best lines. Much as he did in The Devil Wear Prada and, less so, in Julie & Julia (both opposite Meryl Streep, no less), Tucci effortlessly steals the spotlight.
Time will tell if Burlesque becomes the camp classic it promised to be – Coyote Ugly meets Showgirls – but for now it may have to settle for mere guilty pleasure, one with just enough razzle dazzle to earn a cheap Tuesday perve.