Christina plays an Iowa girl who longs to break out of small-town life and 'make it' in the big city. Her talent is singing and dancing, as she demonstrates with an out-of-nowhere rendition (hey, it's a musical!) of 'Something's Got A Hold On Me' whilst gyrating around a chair. Before long Ali is in Los Angeles and waiting the tables of Tess (Cher) and Sean's (Stanley Tucci) burlesque joint. With the club in financial turmoil, a desperate Ali takes to the stage and makes an immediate impression. Tess feigns ambivalence, but for Sean the genie is well and truly out of the bottle. "I couldn't take my eyes of her," says Tucci, who parachutes into the movie at the odd interval to dish out a pointed zinger or pinch a dancer's arse.
Ali manages to catch the eyes of engaged bartender Jack (Cam Gigandent) and Marcus (Eric Dane), the property mogul looking to buy out the Burlesque Lounge. Her arrival also disrupts Nikki, the club's queen bee dancer who refuses to be upstaged by "a slut with mutant lungs". Conflicts boil, romance is ignited and Cher admirably strains to show more than one facial expression. The iconic Oscar/Cannes/Emmy/Golden Globe/Grammy winner headlines the movie but is often on the sidelines, turning up to lend a motherly air and remind us every ten minutes that the club's in trouble and about to close. She does get one moment alone in the musical spotlight (literally), which has to be seen to be fully comprehended.
Helmer Steve Antin swerves in all the directions you'd expect, concocting a plucky underdog tale that's at ease with its fizzing dance numbers, yet completely lost when it comes to story, character and dialogue. That said, the cast is beautiful, Cher is Cher, and it's at times cringingly funny, like when Tess is bartering with James Brolin (!) and Ali keeps leaning across to underline her points as if saying "Cher said it, so there!" The wheels of self-awareness tumble off in the last half-an-hour, though, and it all becomes too serious and earnest as it skims issues of corporate greed. It's much more fun when Christina's wannabe is busting moves at random on the street like an escaped mental patient.
Burlesque will likely sate the desires of both its stars' hardcore fanbases and register on the guilty pleasures list, but it's epically contrived and, like some kind of gay Avatar, completely weightless underneath all the surface sheen. It could have been worse... it could have been Glitter!
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