With singers making their leap onto the silver screen from Mariah Carey to Britney Spears even though with varying degrees of success, it's taken quite the while for the pint sized girl with that tremendous big voice to cautiously and finally dabble with film, making her big screen debut playing a performer no less, guided by and given her break by the legendary diva Cher. Welcome to Burlesque, which is probably the cheapest ticket you can find in order to sit in a Christina Aguilera performance.
Written and directed by first timer Steve Antin, don't expect a story that will knock your socks off, as playing it safe is the catchphrase here, telling a tale that's been told a thousand times involving a small town girl aspiring to make it good in the bright lights of a big city, overcoming adversary and encountering romance as part of the package called Life. Burlesque doesn't attempt to deviate from formula about a from rags to riches story, where perseverance is the order of the day if one's talents should be discovered, and a chance given to prove oneself.
The opening scene establishes Ali(ce) (Aguilera) leaving her waitressing job in Iowa for Los Angeles, and finding herself inexplicably burgled, and waiting for that chance of a lifetime to perform in a cabaret called Burlesque, run by Cher's Tess, the only veteran performer who uses her real singing voice, amongst her posse of beautiful women who gyrate to and lip sync to classics. Think of it as one Bollywood song and dance routine on stage, with lights, colours, larger than life personalities such as the diva with bad attitude Nikki (Kristen Bell). Enter Ali into Tess's life by gatecrashing and working for free on the only job she knows how, picking up moves on the sly and barging her way into an audition which, well, turned out good. And as they say the rest is history.
She's Christina Aguilera after all, so how can one not be surprised by the quality of the vocals and performing routine? What Burlesque made up for its lack of a quality story and clumsy romantic subplot involving the bartender Jack (Cam Gigandet) and a rich real estate mogul Marcus (Eric Dane) setting his sights on acquiring the land Burlesque sits on, is that of Aguilera's performance with her powerful voice coming on when Ali has no choice when sabotaged on her lip sync routine, to let the real deal out of the bag. However even then the slower numbers turned out to be quite a drag, with the film actually coming alive with the more upbeat, electrifying numbers with Aguilera and the ensemble of supporting dancers and stage performers.
And those numbers, from Express to Show Me How You Burlesque, are bang for the buck and that's what musicals are made of, with performances, song and music that stand out from the competition, entertaining as hell, without trying to hard to stick a sultry image on Aguilera with the slower numbers in cheesy, cheeky cabaret routines. These set pieces are what made Burlesque worth that close to two hours to sit through, and one had hoped for an encore performance of sorts when the end credit rolled, which did not materialize.
The rest of the film is largely forgettable, with Cher playing a character who's bogged down by money woes to save her club, though her musical numbers You Haven't Seen the Last of Me, and Welcome to Burlesque will leave you wondering why she isn't given more to do, having to disappear in the middle section of the film to may way for the emergence of Aguilera's Ali as the very polished gem to have landed on her lap. Cher can't play mean and sarcastic, and the surrogate mom turn and potential wasn't capitalized other than a few sporadic scenes, which I suppose is expected from Steve Antin's rookie attempt.
Musical numbers don't move the narrative forward, having to stand out as standalone pieces of singular performances, which of course makes this almost akin to a Christina Aguilera concert. The supporting cast of Alan Cumming got wasted in scenes that don't last five minutes combined, Kristen Bell playing a prima dona that doesn't have much to do except hiss at Aguilera's character, and Stanley Tucci once again plays the saviour and shield type of character protecting young upstarts from the wrath of the resident boss, reprising a role already seen in The Devil Wears Prada, and probably an avenue and outlet for that character to explore should he be served the pink slip at the fashion magazine house.
Christina Aguilera fans won't miss this for the world, but for the rest of the movie going audience, it's more of a musical deja vu of stories set in a cabaret that could have benefitted from a gutsier storyline and better fleshed out characters, but be prepared to be enthralled at how Aguilera can conjure up such powerful vocals for her size and allows for her character to breathe some hope into Burlesque.