Burlesque Hits a Few High Notes

It's pretty gay, pretty to look at - but also pretty predictable

Stanley Tucci may technically play the gayest character – a sharp-tongued stage manager – in the new film Burlesque, but Cher steals the spotlight, naurally, by playing someone not unlike, well, Cher (but with an immovable face). The movie, which opened this past weekend, offers plenty of eye and ear candy for homo and hetero audiences alike, with stellar on-stage performances by solo acts and chorus girls in a fictional account of a neo-burlesque club on L.A.’s Sunset Strip. But like many big Hollywood productions these days (yawn), the shiny, happy movie lacks an interesting story line.

In this small-town-girl-makes-good film, Christina Aguilera’s character can be boiled down to pop and circumstance. She can sing, sure, but will she make it in the cut-throat club? Of course she will. Not much of an actress, the pop star belts out solos with major pipe that’s made her among the more famous alums of the Mickey Mouse Club. And while entertaining in spurts, the song and dance routine can’t make up for what lacks in plot, dialogue and predictable scenes pitting female talents against each other in what amounts to a very mild (younger, prettier) version of All About Eve.

Burlesque is nothing if not derivative. Most of the on-stage scenes are watered-down versions of Cabaret with choreography plucked from the Oscar-winning Bob Fosse musical film from more than three decades ago. Young audiences will not likely notice the obvious rip-offs (Sally Bowles’ bowler hats, for a start) but anyone with a penchant for Kander and Ebb may be a little bored now with what was excitingly provocative then (rap videos on MTV show more skin than this burlesque show).

The Cabaret connection goes further – the club is styled a bit after the old Kit Kat Klub in Berlin. And the scenes between the handsome love struck bartender-musician (Sam Gigandet) and Aguilera mirror the relationship between Liza Minnelli and Michael York. And Alan Cumming, ever charmingly weird, practically reprises his role as the androgynous emcee from the Broadway production of Cabaret at Studio 54. His getups and schtick are virtually indistinguishable from the stage show.

This isn’t to say Burlesque oozes Velveeta like, say, Showgirls or Glitter. Burlesque is a genuinely likable, more polished production with fun and even funny moments that keep the audience’s attention like magpies (there are fishnets, false eyelashes, sparkles and spangles galore, as well as a heavy dose of wise-cracking Cher). Only drag queens could possibly make this movie any gayer.

Expect a few Oscar nods (for music, musical direction and costumes) but don’t count on anything you haven’t already seen before. In the end, the camp, the glitz and glamour – while visually entertaining – come across as more of a long series of music videos than a flamboyant movie musical from the glory days. That being said, more Cher, please.