The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Stop me if you've heard this one before. A young woman leaves her dead-end mid-Western town and heads to Hollywood, hoping to make it as a star. What, you're stopping me already? Let me get a little further. She ends up trading on her sex appeal by performing at a nightclub, run by a tough-as-nails owner who…You're stopping me again? But I haven't even mentioned the fact that the club is losing money and in danger of being bought by a greedy developer. Or the fact that our heroine develops a rivalry with a fellow dancer. Or that she falls in love with an aspiring songwriter who's stuck working behind the bar. You say you've heard all this before? Yeah, me too, yet here it is served up again under the title Burlesque. Imagine a DNA mash-up ofCoyote Ugly, Showgirls, and Xanadu, because that's what the movie is.

In this instance, the young woman is Ali (Christina Aguilera), the venue is a burlesque club, and the owner is Tess (Cher). From the moment Ali walks in and sees beautiful women shaking what their mamas gave them, she knows exactly what she wants to do. Ali also believes that one key to saving the place would be to have the girls sing live as opposed to just lip syncing to old songs. (That's an easy thing to suggest when you have a voice like Christina Aguilera's.) Tess doesn't like the idea, but neither does she want to sell the place to the seedy Marcus (Eric Dane). Somehow, they have to make it work. In the annals of cinema history, the old "let's save the theater" plot is hackneyed beyond measure - a fact this movie seems blissfully unaware of.

Burlesque was written and directed by Steven Antin, whose sister Robin was the creator of the Pussycat Dolls. He obviously knows a thing or two about burlesque shows. It's surprising, then, that his movie makes them seem distinctly un-sexy. While photographed and choreographed with meticulousness, the stripteases aren't particularly erotic. Maybe it's because we're distanced from them, as they aren't happening live in front of us. Just as likely, it's that the film opts for a watered-down PG-13 rating, as opposed to a more-appropriate R rating. Whatever the reason, they don't feel all that titillating.

Even so, the musical numbers are better than the turgid dramatic scenes. Antin leaves no cliché unexplored, and his attempts to string those clichés together often leads to clunky dialogue. Some of the cast members - such as Stanley Tucci, who plays Tess's right-hand man - make it sound reasonably convincing. Others visibly struggle. Then there's Cher, never a particularly great actress to begin with (Moonstruck was a case of her over-the-top qualities being used well), who flounders embarrassingly when trying to spit out some of the absurdities Antin has scripted for her. In an unintentionally comic moment, Tess reads the riot act to Ali's nemesis, Nikki (Kristen Bell), saying: "How many times did I hold your hair over the toilet while you were puking up everything but your memories?" I have nothing against Cher (really!) but I can hear the Razzie awards calling her name. In her acceptance speech, she should slap Antin in the face.

Here's another example of how things go wrong. Cher, by all rights, deserves a moment to shine, to remind us of her glorious Cher-ness. Antin obliges by abruptly stopping everything else to allow her to sing a big show-stopping number that comes out of nowhere and has absolutely nothing to do with anything else on screen. You can tell he wanted to give Cher the kind of moment enjoyed by Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls, when she so memorably belted out "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going." All divas being equal, though, he's obligated to give Aguilera a similar scene about 15 minutes later. So you end up with not one but two intended show-stoppers, neither of which is in any way organic to the already-contrived story.

One could reasonably expect a movie called Burlesque, starring Cher and Christina Aguilera, to be campy, tacky, and maybe even a little trashy. This film is all those things…which would be okay if it knew that about itself. I'm not sure Burlesque does. The movie feels like it wants you to take it seriously. We're asked to care about whether Tess can save the club and whether Ali can win the heart of the songwriting bartender (played by Twilight's Cam Gigandet). These things are such foregone conclusions that it was impossible for me to get invested. Seems that, given the subject matter and the cast, a simple behind-the-scenes-of-a-burlesque-show plot would have been so much more fun than what we ultimately get. Why do we need all the romantic/business subplots?

My guess is that, while reading this review, you sensed something about Burlesque, and I will confirm it: the movie is so awful that it becomes almost perversely entertaining. Like the aforementioned Showgirls and Xanadu, it may endure as a cult classic. Horrible plotting, hilariously insipid dialogue, often-awkward performances - these things add up to a film you can joyfully ridicule with your friends. I'll stop short of saying that Burlesque is "so bad it's good" because it's just bad, but you know what I'm getting at.

( 1/2 out of four)

Burlesque is rated PG-13 for sexual content including several suggestive dance routines, partial nudity, language and some thematic material. The running time is 1 hour and 58 minutes.