Jack—as interpreted mostly shirtlessly by Cam Gigandet—seems to be your classic rom-com male lead. He’s confident and attractive at first glance, but secretly insecure and artistic once he lets his guard down to the New Girl in Town, Christina Aguilera’s Ali, who impulsively moves to LA from Iowa to try to become a star. He’s the bartender at The Burlesque Lounge where Ali performs, but we learn that he aspires to be a songwriter. Macho and tough on the exterior, he’s too afraid to let anyone hear the songs he writes, until Ali teaches him how to open up and follow his dreams (and so on).
In the end, bad boy Jack gives his new boo his masterpiece to perform as the film’s final number. The song, which Jack has been holding back for all these years, however, is inexplicably a sultry, feminine pop-dance number called “Show Me How You Burlesque,” the lyrics of which appear to be sung from the point of view of a Pussycat Doll.
This perplexing development is quite characteristic of Burlesque as a whole—director/writer Steve Antin prioritizes the flashy and extravagant (and, well, gay) over the logical and narrative (and, well, character development). But what is to be expected? This is a movie starring Cher and Christina Aguilera, after all.
The film is enjoyable enough, but in the way that a bad episode of Glee is. Watching and listening to Aguilera and Cher sing is worth the price of admission (as is the case with Lea Michele or Amber Riley), but you’ll rip out your hair if you let yourself worry about character motivations or the acting. But, to be honest, in the case of Burlesque, it’s pretty easy not to care and just enjoy the colors and sounds.
Roughly 50 percent of the movie is song and dance, which is certainly the core competency of the talent and production team. Standout songs are Cher’s knockout ballad “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” and Aguilera’s feisty finale, “Show Me How You Burlesque.” Sadly, though, none of the music is that remarkable. Don’t expect to run home to iTunes.
Aguilera’s film debut is largely a disappointment. When she hits her signature vibrato growl, she’s unmatched, but we already knew she could sing. Her acting, however, doesn’t appear to have progressed much since her “performance” in the “Dirrty” music video. Her failures as an actress mirror her failures as an A-list pop star—she has incredible talent, but has never been able to emotionally connect in a relatable way with her audience. Even her most diehard fans would be hard-pressed to agree on three adjectives that describe her personality, and in the age of Twitter and Taylor Swift, that has been her downfall (along with weak songs, of late). Similarly, few people would be able to agree on any personality traits Ali consistently possesses throughout the film, except, maybe, for that she’s vaguely sassy and a lot skankier than you would have predicted at the beginning of the film.
Whereas Antin probably got the most he could out of Aguilera’s acting talent, his more significant failure was the woeful miscasting of Kristen Bell. Bell—who between roles in Veronica Mars and Party Down has cemented herself as a formidable dramatic and comedic talent—is awkward and painful to watch as Nikki, the alcoholic diva who was the star of the burlesque club before Ali moved to town. The role—along with the brunette dye job—truly could not be more wrong for her.
After the dozen flashy musical numbers and handful of minor arcs featuring the stacked cast (in addition to Aguilera, Cher, Bell and Gigandet, Eric Dane, Julianne Hough, Alan Cumming, Peter Gallagher, Stanley Tucci, and Dianna Agron all have supporting roles!) are finally through, it feels for appropriate for the cast to sing to the audience, “Show Me How You Burlesque,” because clearly the cast and crew had no idea. But, for the most part, you'll still be happy they tried.
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