[Screen It]

(2010) (Christina Aguilera, Cher) (PG-13)

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Drama/Musical: A young woman moves to Los Angeles and makes quite a splash at a financially troubled burlesque club run by a former dancer who serves as the protégé's mentor.
Ali (CHRISTINA AGUILERA) has had enough of Iowa and moves to Los Angeles where she hopes to find a job singing. After repeatedly being turned down, she stumbles into a club called Burlesque and is instantly mesmerized by the choreographed and somewhat risqué dance numbers to old classic tunes performed by the likes of Nikki (KRISTEN BELL), Georgia (JULIANNE HOUGH) and Coco (CHELSEA TRAILLE), among others.

With a tip from bartender Jack (CAM GIGANDET), Ali goes in to see the club's owner, Tess (CHER), and manager, Sean (STANLEY TUCCI), but they're preoccupied not only with the current show, but also the club's finances. Those dire straits are also on the mind of Tess' ex-husband, Vince (PETER GALLAGHER), who's still co-owner of Burlesque and wants to sell to local real estate developer Marcus (ERIC DANE).

Tess wants no part of that, but doesn't see any way of making enough money to pay off their bills. That is, until she hears Ali belt out a song, a development that also draws Marcus' interest, not only due to the young woman's talent, but also because she's quite attractive. Most everyone sees Marcus as bad news for her, including Jack who's allowed her to rent out part of his apartment while his fiancé continues to be away working on a play.

With Nikki jealous of Ali stealing her limelight, and Tess trying to figure out how best to capitalize on the young woman's talents, Ali starts to become a big sensation, but must decide who and what's best for her and her career.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
In this week's recent live TV broadcast of the American Music Awards, it seemed strange that one recording artist after another sounded off to the point that they probably wouldn't have survived through many rounds of American Idol. Granted, many voices are supplemented, modified and/or fixed one way or another in the studio. And some singers simply have bad days, colds or what have you that affect their voices and thus performances.

With each subsequent performance and many off-key notes, however, I began to wonder if somehow the venue and/or the broadcast equipment were somehow affecting everyone. But then up stepped Christina Aguilera and she nailed her song, pitch-perfect in execution (at least to these untrained, non-professional ears) and proved that she can sing just as well in person as she can on a recording, apparently unlike most of her fellow artists.

Accordingly, and knowing I'd be soon seeing her again in "Burlesque," I at least had the assurance (or the general assumption) that at minimum I'd be hearing some terrific singing. Whether that would extend to her big screen acting would have to be determined as, after all, it would be her debut following limited stints of showing thespian skills in her various music videos.

But then again, perhaps she would have gotten some pointers from her co-star and possible role model, Cher, a fellow larger than life singer (similarly known for belting out and holding her notes) who successfully segued into movie acting (and won an Oscar -- for "Moonstruck" -- out of two nominations). And for fans of such energetic singing, maybe they'd get the treat of watching the two singers co-mingle on a song or two.

Alas, the latter never happens and the former apparently didn't sink in enough if it occurred as the younger star might have the lungs (described as "mutant" by her rival in the story) and looks for the part, but her acting prowess (while thankfully not of the nails down the chalkboard variety) leaves something to be desired. As does the overall film that admittedly has a few fun numbers -- and certainly lots of eye candy for those looking for such sights -- but otherwise falls prey to cliché overload.

In fact, after a while, it started to become apparent it would be easier to count the genre conventions that weren't present than those that were. It got so bad that audience members at our screening started yelling out their guesses regarding upcoming plot development and lines of dialogue. Not surprisingly, they hit most of them right on the nose. And that's because we've seen this sort of story and its character types so often that nary a surprise lies in wait for the audience.

There's the small town girl (Aguilera) who arrives in L.A. with dreams in her heart and stars in her eyes, but is quickly shot down by the bosses (Cher and Stanley Tucci -- who's the best thing the film has to offer in terms of acting, although he could do this sort of role in his sleep) at the titular establishment where she wants to work. They're concerned about the mortgages and bills and have until the end of the month to turn things around. Hmmm, I wonder who might provide the salvation they desperately need, which at least would wipe the constantly worried and stressed look off Peter Gallagher's face as the co-owner of the place.

He wants to sell the place to a developer (Eric Dane) who then sets his sights on our young protagonist's "lungs" and then her singing talent that he tells her deserves a better venue than where she eventually does her thing (after another cliché that opens a spot for her there). Everyone knows she's headed for trouble if she goes down his path, including the club's bartender and resident nice guy (Cam Gigandet) who oh so conveniently allows her to stay at his place. I'll let you guess how many bits of humorous and then adversarial dialogue flows between them before they're rolling around in the sheets. And to top all of that off, there's the rival (Kristen Bell) who's around to squint her eyes, complain, backstab and, oh, having a drinking problem to boot.

Yes, writer/director Steve Antin seemingly had the cliché checklist in front of him while penning and then helming this flick, knocking them off one after another and maybe even adding a few that has been left off. Less than discerning viewers who like comfort in the familiar might not mind, and at least there are some "they're so bad they're funny" lines of dialogue ("I will not be upstaged by some chick with mutant lungs" and "While you threw up everything but your memories") from time to time that had critics (including yours truly) at our screening howling.

Sadly, there aren't enough of them, and the filmmaker unfortunately doesn't decide to steer the whole thing into straight camp, which would have been the wisest move considering how things otherwise play out.

The numbers themselves are decently performed and filmed, with a few memorable songs, although nothing as catchy as what occurred in "Chicago," and the overall experience certainly isn't anything along the lines of "Cabaret."

But at least Aguilera's singing makes up for some of the rest of the film's misgivings. If only her acting was on par, and the film hadn't jumped headfirst into a tub of clichés, then "Burlesque" might have been something more than eye candy. It rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed November 22, 2010 / Posted November 24, 2010

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