If you're going to make a movie about an entertainment form based on skin, sex and bawdy belly laughs, your film ought to include any of the three. But the new Christina Aguilera comeback vehicle, Burlesque, hides its best assets beneath a leaden plot and enough soft focus to make even Cher look dewy.
You already know the story/Journey song: small-town girl Ali (Aguilera, with bangs and a jean jacket) heads to L.A. to become a star. Awed by the sight of a stage full of women dressed in bras and striped thigh-high stockings shaking their asses, she annoys the club owner, Tess (Cher, with bangs and cheeks that now resemble airplane propellers), into giving her a spot in the chorus line. Guess what happens when they find out the puny white girl who can barely dance is hiding a pair of mutant Aretha Franklin lungs?
With fun style cues and choreography cribbed from every movie that ever featured a push-up bra, from Sweet Charity to Showgirls, Burlesque still manages to be a dull, PG-13 tease: Kristen Bell, who usually exudes twinkle-eyed bitchiness, trades her personality for a lace bodystocking to play a drunken, lip-syncing diva. The only moment of quality nudity comes courtesy of Ali's love interest, bartender/musician/ab model Jack (Cam Gigandet), who plays "Dick in a Box" with a package of cookies. Even the bad guy—Eric Dane's slick developer, who wants to turn Cher's club into high-rise condos—isn't that bad. He just doesn't understand the transformational importance of fanny dancing. In a respite from the boredom, Stanley Tucci shows up to play a witty, gay costume designer—the exact same role he sashayed through in The Devil Wears Prada, with Cher and a BeDazzler standing in for Meryl Streep.
The silver lining of the entire snoozy mess is the fact that Christina Aguilera does indeed have a freakishly great set of pipes. A '20s era honky-tonk piece featuring the blonde bombshell writhing on a piano, clad in an amazing bikini made of pearls, is the best moment —and, oddly enough, the only actual striptease—in the film.
Credit for all the soulless flash and glitter goes to writer/director Steven Antin—brother of Robin Antin, the founder of the L.A. burlesque troupe-turned-MTV commodity Pussycat Dolls, and one of the creators of the 2007 CW reality series Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll—who, doing what he does best, essentially cobbled together one long, slick Pussycat video. If only he hadn't tried to turn it into a movie. PG-13.
opens Wednesday at Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Eastport, Cinema 99, Bridgeport, Cinetopia, Division, Evergreen, Fox Tower, Hilltop, Lloyd Center, Lloyd Mall, Movies on TV, Pioneer Place, Sherwood, Tigard and Wilsonville.