Every movie has a few clichés. You just have to finesse them.
In Burlesque, writer/director Steve Antin lays on the clichés with a trowel, delivering a show-biz tale packed with elements that had started to smell iffy during the Great Depression.
Iowa waitress Ali (Christina Aguilera) heads to Los Angeles with a dream of performing. She finds a basement nightclub called Burlesque, is enraptured by the elaborate girly floor shows, gets a job serving drinks and, one night, must step into the star's shoes.
Stop me if this sounds familiar.
Burlesque behaves as if these hoary elements were as fresh as morning dew. No post-modern twists. No ironic commentary on overworked tropes. No so-bad-it's-good knuckleheadedness a la Showgirls. Just plot and dialogue that land with audible thuds.
Saving the film from disaster are Aguilera, tackling her first big-screen leading role, and the musical numbers. Both allow us to forget, if only momentarily, how weary this could have become.
In the film's first few minutes, Ali belts out Etta James' Something's Got a Hold on Me while packing her suitcase for her escape. From that moment on, we live in anticipation of the next time she'll burst into song.
Aguilera more than holds her own. Not that Antin's screenplay offers much of a challenge. Ali's character arc ranges from determined sweet young thing to really determined sweet young thing. But Aguilera sells it while being very, very watchable.
Co-star Cher, playing the club's tough-outside, soft-inside owner, Tess, rules like a bawdy mother hen. She has one big production number and a more modest vocal solo that should keep diva devotees happy.
Other characters also come right out of central casting: Kristen Bell as the ego-driven cabaret star deposed by Ali; Cam Gigandet as the friendly bartender who takes in our girl when her apartment is burgled; Stanley Tucci as Burlesque's gay director/stage manager; Eric Dane as a real estate magnate on the prowl to buy the financially strapped club and build a high-rise. Pretty much wasted are Peter Gallagher as Tess's fretful ex and Alan Cumming as the club's doorman.
The musical numbers aren't that original, but they're fun. Aguilera gets to parody Sally Rand's famous fan dance, but these aren't classic strip-tease numbers. More like riffs on Cabaret-style decadence, with lots of ersatz Fosse pelvic thrusts and extended legs. Musical sources range from Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend to '60s go-go.
These productions are so big and elaborate that a) there's no way a little basement club could accommodate them and b) so expensive that Tess would require the income of a Vegas casino to underwrite them.
But, hey, if you're looking for logic, Burlesque isn't your movie.