Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Oh, cheese, glorious cheese! Christina Aguilera gets off a bus from Iowa – yeah, like she’s from Iowa – in Los Angeles with nothing but a coupla bucks in her pocket (which almost immediately get stolen, natch) and aspirations of stardom. As a dancer. Or maybe a singer. But something flashy, anyway: it’s L.A., after all! That big Hollywood sign really is right there, shining like a beacon over the city. And then there’s the club she stumbles into one night… well, the club she tremblingly hesitates to spend the 20 bucks it takes to get in, her being so poor and broke. But The Burlesque Lounge – that is what it is called, darlings – is like something out of the dreams she must have had as an urchin on the streets of Weimar Berlin. I mean, Alan Cumming himself is right there, in eyeliner and a bowler hat and a wicked grin and everything!
Gosh, the piles of silliness in this magnificent piece of trash are almost too much to bear. I’m still not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad one, but one thing is for sure: this is the sort of cinematic junk food that the term “guilty pleasure” was invented for. Break it down into its component parts, and it’s really quite dreadful. Alan Cumming is completely wasted, for one, and why on earth would anyone cast Alan Cumming in anything and not let him run around like the delicious lunatic that he is? Kristin Bell as the “evil” dancer who’s jealous of Aguilera’s Ali – who, it turns out, can dance and sing, the kind of double threat the likes of which The Burlesque Lounge simply hasn’t seen before – and Eric Dane as the “evil” real-estate magnate who wants to buy up the Burlesque barely even begin to compensate for the lack of Nazi villains. One wonders whether writer-director Steve Antin – a music video director making his feature debut – has even seen Cabaret, or has only seen, maybe, clips from it. He could have at least come up with a nasty old evil rich duke like the bad guy from Moulin Rouge! from which Antin also tries to steal a little mojo (unsuccessfully).
Did I mention that the bank is foreclosing on the Burlesque unless owner Tess can raise some money before the end of the month? I think I saw this in a Muppet movie once, complete with Miss Piggy in sequins and feathers and belting out classy old standards about diamonds being a girl’s best friend and such.
No, but there’s some good stuff here. Cher totally steals the movie as Tess: She is a force of nature, and even the most preposterous nonsense Antin often forces her to say comes out like the most natural and spontaneous stuff anyone ever uttered. She’s always had that Movie Star It, and she still does (even if it’s sorta embarrassing to have to compare poor Aguilera to her: The kid doesn’t stand a chance). Stanley Tucci as Tess’s best friend and partner in theater is basically doing his Devil Wears Prada routine again, but at least he gets more screen time than Cumming, and it is as joyous as ever to watch him sashay around and wisecrack. And if the burlesque itself isn’t quite as genuine as it might be, it’s actually pretty damn cool: naughty and energetic without being dirty. The couple of diva-ish new tunes Cher and Aguilera get to belt out are comparatively incongruous and jarring: The movie could have done without them bringing everything to a standstill.
That’s because when it’s moving, there are catty catty catfights and Cam Gigandet as the Burlesque bartender Ali befriends because she thinks he’s gay and even when he insists he’s not gay still makes you totally think: No, really, he’s gay, right? It’s all so ridiculous but kinda old-fashioned, in a nice way, in spite of itself.