By Rick Bentley McClatchy Newspapers
“Burlesque” is the story of a spunky young woman who sings and dances her way from small-town obscurity to big-city fame. So naturally, one has to wonder: Is it closer to the Oscar-winning “Chicago” or the cult-favorite “Showgirls?”
As far as the story goes, the script by director/writer Steve Antin is a cliche-riddled mess.
Cher plays Tess, the owner of a burlesque club who puts on a gruff act but has a heart of gold. Her club’s in financial trouble and it looks like the days of woman scantily dancing and singing are about to end. In melodramatic fashion, in walks Ali (Christina Aguilera), a girl fresh off the bus from Iowa who has a big heart and an even bigger voice. Her desire to be a star could be just what the club needs.
The story is filled with movie-musical stereotypes, from Nikki (Kristen Bell), the club’s big star who’s battling a drinking problem, to Sean (Stanley Tucci), the club’s jack-of-all-trades who’s as quick with a quip as a needle and thread. There’s not an original character in the lot.
The film makes the point that people don’t watch burlesque to hear the barely costumed women sing. But the singing and dancing is the only reason to see the film.
Antin stages the musical numbers with enough flash, dash and pizazz to distract from the thin story line. Along with the wonderfully staged dance numbers is the score — it’s a musical force that helps hide the holes in the script.
When it comes to distractions, no one blows the roof off the joint like Aguilera. Her musical performances are a blast and worth the price of admission. (They also mean less emoting for the first-time movie star Aguilera, who needs time to grow into being a good actress.)
But it’s Cher who has the show-stopping — and Oscar-worthy — number with a powerful performance of the ballad “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me.” It’s rare to see a performance as emotional and moving as this one in a film.
In the end, when it comes down to the “Chicago” vs. “Showgirls” debate, the musical performances are strong enough to make “Burlesque” have glitz, glamour and enough of all that jazz to be a winner.
Cher plays the gruff-but-lovable owner of a struggling burlesque club who sees salvation in the form of a young singer-dancer (Christina Aguilera). The story line’s got cliches galore, but the dance-and-song numbers are wonderfully staged.
Rated: PG-13 for language, brief nudity, suggestive material.
Showing: Alderwood, Everett Stadium, Marysville, Meridian and Metro.