Music’s over-the-hill ambassador for sexy freaky, Cher, returns to the big screen looking evermore like a mythical creature invented to scare small children in director Steve Antin’s magnificently awful Burlesque.
Cher belts out a few wailing numbers and stars alongside fellow singer-cum-actor Christina Aguilera as Tess, a jaded straight talkin’ owner of a dingy burlesque club where lifetime dreams are apparently realized somewhere amongst the corvettes, lacy dresses and martini stains.
Aguilera is Alice, the warm-hearted country gal’ who arrives at Tess’ club determined to find stardom. Instead she finds a waitresses tray, sleeps on the couch of the good looking barman and waits for her lucky break, which, in the spirit of these things, arrives after a tick-the-boxes first act in which a bitchy enemy establishes animosity with our hero and a familiar subplot emerges about a financially desperate club destined to shut its doors for good lest a last minute miracle keeps them open.
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A certain someone who can – gasp! – sing as well as dance (unheard of in this particular establishment) might just be about to help keep the place afloat.
If you guessed the plot lines of Burlesque course through the same mangy vein as Crossroads (2002) and Flashdance (1983) you guessed right, suffice to say it makes the latter look like a superlative show of restraint, Antin drawing and falling over the kind of woe-betide-us line even the Simpson/Bruickheimer high concept combo act might have had qualms about crossing.
When Burlesque isn’t eye-poking ear-hammeringly awful, the worst bits are the best bits: the incomprehensibly and intermittently hilarious hammy dialogue, the clowns packing a tiny car quality of the cast and the kind of storytelling contrivances that would beggar belief had the film engendered any sort of faith in humanity, or reality. The first scene in which the lovers embrace is played for laughs but impressively still manages to feel overpoweringly awkward.
The songs hit upon an odd flick of finger strummin’ fun but the numbers come on thick and strong, a cement gravy of bellows and vowels. There’s no doubt Aguilera looks the part, maybe even sounds the part, but she can’t come close to fishing her credibility out of the pool – she’s a major part of the problem.
And Cher, well, Cher looks eerily like Lord Voldemort these days, with her fuzzy pushed in nose, protruding cheekbones and ghoulish Vaseline-smeared countenance. There is a depravity and desperation to the showbiz world that Burlesque scores a couple of minor notches for illuminating, albeit unintentionally, and Cher epitomizes that feeling of artifice and false hope, persuing a fools quest to conquer the limitations of age and body and to stay in the spotlight no matter how many upstarts are gunning to fill it. As Roger Ebert put it: “other people age. Cher has become a logo.”
The most convincing emotional moment in Burlesque is in fact a Cher solo. “I’ve been brought down to my knees,” she thunders. “I’ve been pushed right past the point of breaking.” And the evidence is right before our eyes.
Burlesque’s Australian theatrical release date: January 13, 2010.