Like this week’s other major Thanksgiving release, Disney’s mangled Tangled, the neatly marketed Burlesque has a better half and is far from flawless. But it beats getting molested by the government and it offers a decent dose of escapism in a world turning upside down. Written and directed for Sony’s Screen Gems by actor and former live burlesque show writer Steven Antin, who also writes song lyrics here, this low-impact star vehicle for Cher and Christina Aguilera should be consumed with low expectations.
Broadly about a couple of brassy dames who don’t fit in, and at its best when the two share the spotlight, Aguilera and Cher play a trailer park escapee and a salty club maven respectively. They tussle at first in this nightclub that could never actually exist on today’s Sunset Boulevard, but, like everything else in Burlesque, you sort of go with the 1940s-era plot which, in turns, is corny, bawdy, and 100 percent enjoyable. Cher plays Cher, basically, and one becomes aware of her long absence from the screen and her cosmetic work, which is impossible not to notice. But she delivers in this exaggerated show business story, which combines the style of Chicago and Cabaret with the pluckiness of Flashdance. Aguilera can act, it turns out, when she isn’t buried beneath too much makeup as Cher is buried beneath too much surgery. I don’t say that to be mean; these two are best when left largely alone and unadorned. They appear in the movie’s best non-musical scene with Cher teaching the showgirl how to accentuate her best features.
The tunes are fine, with everything from Kander and Ebb to Etta James (“Tough Lover” rocks the house) with a soundtrack that includes songs by Boston, Madonna, Elmer Bernstein, Wynton Marsalis, and Marilyn Manson. There’s plenty of skin showing during the half-naked dance routines and there’s too much that’s ridiculous to mention (a club that’s too small, a pink-tinged Cyndi Lauper meet Rocky Horror nurse bit, and a whole lot of hoochie) but, when you break Burlesque down, it’s about the fact that “it’s fun being a girl,” as Cher’s gay sidekick (Stanley Tucci) puts it. Both these flimsy characters want to work hard doing what they love and, if you can see past the bad love story, catty chorus girls, and abundant cliches, amid some serious eye candy, babydoll wedding dress, and Art Deco backgrounds, you will probably forget the family drama, if not the fascist TSA, and have one heck of a good time.