Earnestly ersatz down to every spangle, dance move, plot turn, and line of hokum dialogue, Burlesque is a showbiz pic for these American Idol times a time when we agree to pretend that mediocre mimicry of better artists is good enough to keep us entertained. We agree to pretend that quality is in the eye and ear of the undemanding beholder. We agree that life is a cabaret, that camp trumps criticism, and that the sight of 64-year-old Cher in corset, glitter, and full kabuki make-up is its own reward.
On this last point, at least, you’ll hear no argument from me. As for the rest, maybe Burlesque will serve as the imitation goods that spurs a consumer revolution for something more authentic. Aw, who am I kidding? It won’t. A crockpot-stew of leftovers from famous song-and-dance tales including Cabaret, Showgirls, 42nd Street, Chicago, Glee, and Dancing With the Stars, the movie introduces Ali (Christina Aguilera), a wide-eyed blond go-getter who, when she’s not waiting tables in a small-town bar in Dullsville, Iowa, gyrates and sings in a big Aguilera voice and dreams of following her bliss to Los Angeles.
So she packs her curling iron, boards a bus, arrives in the City of Angels, and almost immediately clamps mascara-ed eyes on The Burlesque Lounge. What are the odds that Cher would be there as Tess, the proprietor/headliner/glitzy mama grizzly? That, having wisely saved his eyeliner from Cabaret on Broadway, Alan Cumming would find new use for gender-bending eyebrow waggles as the theater’s winking ticket-taker and host? And that Ali would, in short order, bag a job as a waitress, then as a dancer, then as a singer, then as a showstopper, then as the new girl in town who simultaneously charms a handsome, insecure musician/bartender with good values (Cam Gigandet) and a handsome, over-secure real estate magnate with bad values (Eric Dane)? Heck, what are the gay-dream odds that the husband of La Streisand herself James Brolin would show up for a cameo?
In Burlesque, never bet against the house. (Never count out the possibility of barking out a laugh where none was intended, either.) The relationship between Ali and her bartender beau is, for the most part, as old-fashioned as that of virginal teens sharing an ice cream cone. The showgirls bend like flexi-straws and wiggle their fannies, but eroticism is safely off the table. Reusing his own shtick from The Devil Wears Prada, Stanley Tucci brightens the screen every time he shows up as the theater’s witty, gay stage manager. But his genial contributions aren’t enough. Tucci is overrun by the machinery of synthetic spectacle operated with a newbie’s license by first-time feature writer-director Steven Antin. Must the show go on? C-