Time was when the word “burlesque” on a marquee was the ultimate catnip for the red-blooded, heterosexual male. On good days I like to think I qualify as the latter, and so was more than a little curious to check out the new film by that name, despite the stink-cloud of bad reviews that preceded it, on the age-old critical theory that “Sometimes the plot is not so good, but on the other hand, ‘Look at that! Look at that!'”
It is my sad duty to report, gentlemen, that the film treacherously named Burlesque doesn’t even have that to offer. I suppose this will strike some observers as obvious (though to me it is by no means self-evident) that this is a film by and for people who like to look at the beauty of MEN. In a movie (I remind you) called Burlesque and featuring I grant you a dozen half-dressed women, that tyrant known by feminists as “the male gaze” is not only not catered to, it is completely ignored.
For clarification, the film does not take place in an actual burlesque club…it takes place in a modern night club CALLED Burlesque, a sort of theme-park style venue celebrating the fashions of Cabaret and Chicago, where a chorus line of dancers helmed by Cher (who now evokes Mae West circa Sextette) and her gay, full-time choreographer (Stanley Tucci) lip syncs and does energetic, fast paced dance routines. It is the fast pace and the rock video style editing and direction that are the undoing of these passages, all vertigo-inducing hand-held camerawork, close-ups and rapid-fire montage, never pausing to contemplate the subject in the frame (the ostensible purpose of a girlie show, after all, is ogling). But that’s okay, there are no slow, sultry numbers anyway….only hyperkinetic, gymnastic, Broadway-style routines that seem like they were conceived on an overdose of Four Loko (with a Red Bull chaser). Then of course, show biz aspirant Christine Aguilera comes on the scene and introduces singing into the program — gospel, soulful belting, roughly as sexy and come-hither as a slow dance with Mahalia Jackson at the peak of her caterwaul.
The plot is a tissue of cliches lifted from the likes of Flashdance, Show Girls, Moulin Rouge, and the above mentioned Fosse projects. Aguilera is our heroine, just off the bus from Iowa, where she apparently learned to sing and dance like this from the scarecrows. We watch with rapt attention as she works her way from waitress…to the star attraction of the night club! And then we watch with total indifference as she is forced to choose between a sensitive-looking, mascara-wearing metrosexual who tends bar, and an insensitive-looking, evil-capitalist metrosexual who wants to buy the bar. (There are only gays and metrosexuals in the entire film. Any wide shot of the club reveals 75-100 metrosexuals with moussed, gently tussled hair, and a day’s worth of highly calculated five o’clock shadow. It looks like a bodywash commercial on a metrosexual clone planet). At any rate, I would say it would be a fate worse than death for Aguilera’s character to wind up with the evil capitalist metrosexual…except for the fact that it would be equally unbearable if she wound up with the sensitive, bartending girly-man. And it would be great if she wound up with neither but for the fact that SHE would still be there. Before I walked out of the film (about twenty minutes before the final credits) I began to fantasize about how great it would be if Roland Emmerich suddenly seized direction of the film from writer-director “Steve Antin” and this particular vision of Los Angeles was subjected to a series of twisters and volcanic eruptions before one last earthquake sent California sliding into the sizzling, boiling ocean. I’d pay an extra thirteen dollars for that.