Judge Gordon Sullivan is a bawdy slapstick comedian.
It takes a LEGEND…to make a STAR
Burlesque as an American art form had its peak in the years before television, but it's been making a concerted comeback in the last few decades. In a culture where information bombardment and overstimulation is a fact of life, it's no wonder that audiences are turning out to a form of entertainment that's based on slow-build sizzle and teasing (rather than satisfying) desires. Despite its resurgence in a number of places, Hollywood has yet to take serious notice of the trend towards the burlesque. That is, until Burlesque (though Chicago feels like an obvious forerunner). It's a star-studded vehicle for two women: one famed for her mutability and celebrity, the other for her voice and verve. Despite everyone's best intentions, and flying in the face of a proud tradition, Burlesque fizzles when it should have sizzled, and in the future will only serve as a sad footnote to the careers of several fine actors.
Facts of the Case
Stop me if you've heard this one before: Ali (Christina Aguilera, The Mickey Mouse Club), a young girl from the middle of nowhere goes out to L.A. to make her way in the world as a singing/dancing sensation. Her dreams are dashed until she finds employment at an unlikely place: the Burlesque club. There, all the women dance to pre-recorded vocals, which our young heroine disdains as she works as a waitress serving drinks while others dance. When one of the ladies of the stage gets pregnant, Ali gets her chance to shine, making some of the other dancers jealous. One of them pulls out the audio cord during Ali's routine to get revenge, but Ali merely steps up and sings while she dancing, bringing more customers to the lounge. Oh, and did I mention that this fine establishment is about to be shut down because the proprietress (Cher, Mask) owes the bank money? Naturally Ali can't let that happen, so she embarks on a quest to save her beloved club.
Burlesque does capture one aspect of the art of burlesque perfectly: the tease. One could argue that Burlesque is all tease. I'm not just talking about the lithe young ladies running around the stage in barely a whisper and a body stocking. While that's tease enough, Burlesque goes one better and almost threatens at points to be a good movie (like when Stanley Tucci or Alan Cumming are on screen). But, that's just a tease. The film also threatens to join Showgirls on the list of infamous flops (pretty much every time the film aims for anything like pathos). But, that's just a tease as well. In this case the film has learned burlesque's lesson too well, and is really neither fish nor fowl. It gets worse, though. The film's PG-13 rating keeps it too sexy to be a wholesome family film about a young singer making good, but not sexy enough for those hoping to get a peek behind Christina Aguilera's enormous feather fans. Also, let me dash a number of hopes right now: those hoping that the reference to "brief nudity" were referring to Christina, Kristen, or even Cher, are sure to be disappointed. Instead, we get a brief backside show of male star Cam Gigandet.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In the film's defense, they could have stopped casting after Christina Aguilera and Cher. There was no reason to put excellent actors like Kristen Bell, Alan Cumming, Stanley Tucci, and Peter Gallagher in the film. Yet, against all odds, those actors are in the film, and class up every scene they're in. Stanley Tucci is especially interesting as the stage manager. He channels some of the wit and pathos that made his portrayal of Puck so interesting. Alan Cumming is also a scene stealer. He only appears in insert shots, never interacting with the other players (though he has a deleted musical number on the disc), but every time the camera lingers on him I want the film to suddenly become his story. He also makes me want to see a version of Cabaret where he's the MC. I love pretty much everything Kristen Bell has done (except for Pulse); here she plays a delightful caricature of the catty and jealous former star.
I'm hardly a fan of Christina Aguilera, but I can't deny either her voice or her commitment to the role. She gets numerous opportunities to belt it out to the cheap seats in the film, so fans are sure to enjoy that, as well as the retro feel of many of her songs. She's also totally dedicated to bringing Ali to the screen. She's not the greatest actress, but anything less than total commitment would have sunk this film before it even started. , She plays every cliché as though it were as fresh as a daisy.
This DVD is surprisingly decent as well. The 2.40:1 transfer is solid, with bold, bright colors where appropriate, and deep, rich blacks in the darkened club. Skin tones remain accurate, and detail is strong for a standard def release. The 5.1 audio does a great job with the film's music and dialogue. The surrounds get a lot of play during the musical numbers, and the dialogue comes out cleanly from the center channel the rest of the time. The disc also include a optional English descriptive track. It's actually kind of funny, and I foresee someone using it to fashion a drinking game in the near future.
Extras start with a commentary by writer/director Steven Antin (with optional subtitles). He's chatty but obviously enamored of the film. He's not particularly insightful, but his comments have a breezy quality that make the track easy to sit through. Next up is the "Burlesque Jukebox," which includes the uncut versions of six of the film's musical numbers. Unsurprisingly, my favorites both feature Alan Cumming, one of which ("That's Life") was cut from the film. We also get a slightly longer alternate opening, and a five-minute blooper reel.
Burlesque did not make back its budget in American theaters, and it's not hard to see why. The film will obviously appeal to Christina Aguilera's core audience, but beyond that it's a too-light confection that doesn't offer enough sizzle to lure in those looking for sex, nor is it bad enough for those hoping for a train wreck. The DVD provides a strong presentation and decent extras, but the disc is lacking in enough input from Xtina herself to make fans want to grab it up.
Burlesque is guilty of being neither here nor there.
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