Production design and sex appeal prevails. Story doesn't.

There is definitely something to admire about a film that wears its badge of camp so proudly as the cast and crew of flamboyant musical Burlesque does. Cheesy and often very cliched it certainly is, but there are also some glamourous musical delights, and the raunchy tone – not to mention Christina Aguilera’s self-evident sex appeal – will keep musical-shy males from shuffling about in their seats too much.

Ali Rose (Aguilera) is a downtrodden waitress living in a small-town, with big dreams of escaping to Los Angeles where she can pursue her dream of becoming a singer. After half-inching the wages she is owed by her slave-driver boss, she packs up and heads to L.A., where she falls headlong into the world of burlesque, as she winds up at The Burlesque Lounge, a flailing joint owned by Tess (Cher). Hugely behind on her lease payments, Tess hears Ali’s voice and sees her as a ticket to freedom, while Ali has to deal with the backstage drama of her colleagues, chiefly Nikki (Kristen Bell, here as a brunette), while juggling a tentative relationship and rent arrangement with barman Jack (Cam Gigandet).

What can be said of Burlesque? Some will find it tirelessly corny and anachronistic, while others are going to admire its wilfully trashy, melodramatic tone. Neither qualification satisfies what the film is about entirely; it is instead for the most part surprisingly watchable, though given the concession of a 12A rating, it lacks the true sexiness – though not salaciousness – to show what burlesque truly is. It comes off as a sanitised, nearly family-friendly portrayal, which is at odds with Aguilera’s propensity to wearing figure-hugging outfits; we can tell she wants to go further with it, and the film comes off as strained as a result.

On the other hand, it is hardly boring; the production design is stellar and there is usually plenty transpiring on-screen to hold the attention span. In simpler terms, there is the pronounced feeling that the costume department had a bet with the director to see if they could squeeze Ms. Aguilera into a tigher, more pulse-priming outfit with each passing scene. The songs, meanwhile, mostly evaporate from the memory not long after leaving the cinema, but they’re lively and impassioned enough, ably demonstrating the strength of Aguilera and Cher’s vocals, though not leaving a lasting impression as a catalogue of tunes.

More surprising is Aguilera’s performance away from the mic; her relaxed charisma and charm is expected, though it is a naturalistic performance that lacks the gimmick-infused desperation of other musician’s actorly pursuits (say, Mariah Carey in Glitter, though she somewhat redeemed herself with Precious last year). It is a fully believable turn, and in fact makes one almost wish her dramatic work here wasn’t mostly spent on fawning over the dreamboat barman.

Yes, little effort has been put into the non-musical stuff; it consists primarily of the laughable will-they-won’t-they relationship fluff between Ali and Jack, and Tess’ efforts to keep her legacy from crumbling. It’s much ado about little, but it is punctuated with a few moments of charm, largely thanks to Stanley Tucci’s deliciously camp performance as Tess’ stage manager, Sean. Ultimately, it is the personalities of the players on screen that keeps the sluggish drama from being too eye-rolling, though it is ultimately slack padding that makes 119 minutes seem a little longer.

Burlesque isn’t good filmmaking, but it isn’t intolerable either; much like last year’s Nine, its glitzy look is an act of affrontery, and in actual fact, the film is light, easily digestible trash that is nevertheless somewhat entertaining (though Nine is better-produced and has catchier, more memorable songs). Aguilera deserves praise for her work here, while Cher demonstrates some decent comic timing despite eerily coming to resemble an animatronic version of her Madame Tussauds entry nowadays. Don’t go in expecting high art and you probably won’t be too disappointed, and there’s plenty of raciness to keep the lads intrigued for the most part, but the disingenuous drama stifles the fun.


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