A small town singer, Ali (Christina Aguilera), moves to the big city for her chance at stardom where she is enchanted by Burlesque, a glamorous nightclub packed with dancers, sizzling music, and an owner (Cher) in need of a star. Jam-packed with visually stunning musical numbers and an all-star cast featuring Eric Dane, Kristen Bell and Stanley Tucci.
I'm man enough to admit I'm a fan of movie musicals, but my affection for the genre isn't unconditional. In addition to catchy songs, talented performers, and innovative staging, a musical, like any other film, must have heart, meaning, wit, and intelligence to make a lasting impression. 'Burlesque,' unfortunately, has none of those things. It has a fine cast - though how such a thin, weak script could attract so many big names is mind-boggling - a bit of style, and a couple of decent tunes, but little else to spark interest. Even as mindless entertainment, its appeal is limited.
'Burlesque' isn't a bad movie per se, it's just aimless. Not much story, no interesting characters, no resonating themes. Writer-director Steven Antin constructs some nice visuals, but his freshman effort lacks bite, and ends up a sloppy amalgamation of 'Cabaret,' 'Chicago,' and 'Showgirls.' The numbers possess a certain degree of panache, the acting is satisfactory, and the costumes and sets exude some glitz and glamor, but eye candy alone can't sustain us for two hours. Without any hooks to pique our interest, 'Burlesque' just ambles along, and even the throaty vocals of a couple of divas (Cher and Christina Aguilera) can't take it off life support.
The first mistake Antin made was building a film around a burlesque-style performance of Aguilera. Making the vehicle fit the star instead of the other way around rarely works, and the half-hearted, clichéd narrative Antin devises doesn't serve anyone in the movie well. Girl from the sticks (Aguilera) with a big voice and big dreams shucks her job at a rundown diner, buys a one-way bus ticket to Hollywood, and tries to become a star. She winds up at a struggling burlesque club run by a tough mother hen (Cher), and when the temperamental star (Kristen Bell) walks out, she subs for her and becomes an overnight sensation. Success, however, is rarely paved with stardust, and the up-and-coming heroine must scale her share of hurdles before the flashy finale.
It's good to see Cher back on screen, but the role of nightclub proprietress does little for her. At 64, and thanks to more than a few nips and tucks, the singer-actress still maintains a modicum of allure and can still belt out a tune, but spends most of the film loitering about backstage, bemoaning the financial difficulties that might sink her club, and baring her superficial soul to her costume guru (Stanley Tucci, who practically reprises his 'Devil Wears Prada' role - if Miranda Priestly ever fired Nigel, he surely ended up working in Cher's employ). Aguilera, in her film debut, shows off her sturdy set of pipes, dons a host of outfits and hairstyles, and romances her share of beefcake - all with the confidence of a seasoned veteran - but the flimsy material doesn't require her to stretch her abilities beyond what might be required in a music video.
'Burlesque' is surely geared toward females, but even my wife and teenage daughter found it drab and dull. As producers have discovered time and again, big names can't mask a film's deficiencies, and the movie musical, if it is to survive, needs strong stories and meaningful scores to snare audiences. 'Burlesque' has neither, and as a result, will be quickly forgotten.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Burlesque' makes its high-def debut in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack wrapped up in a flashy slipcase with raised lettering. The two discs reside in a standard case, and upon insertion, a Sony 3-D promo and four trailers precede the full-motion menu with music. Video codec is 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC and primary audio is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. There's also an audio description track in Dolby Digital 5.1 for the visually impaired.
'Burlesque' carries on the tradition of high quality transfers for musical films. This 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 effort from Sony brims with clarity and lushness, thanks to bold, well-saturated primaries and deep, inky blacks. The predominance of soundstage scenes allows the meticulous manipulation of light and shadow, which often produces striking images that feature fine depth and shadow delineation. The flashy costumes show up especially well, with tiny details jumping forth. Backgrounds are crisp, too, but some faint film grain softens up the picture just enough to maintain a semi-natural look.
Solid contrast lends pizzazz to many sequences, while others appear just a tad dark. Colors, especially the brothel red that's used liberally throughout, make a statement, and fleshtones remain stable and true. Close-ups are sharp but not dimensional, yet still allow us to properly appreciate the vast array of attractive specimens on display. No banding, edge enhancement, or pixelation distract, and as one might expect, the source material for this recent release is spotless. A bit more razzle-dazzle would have garnered this transfer a higher grade, but it's still a very good rendering that will please audiences.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track also does musicals proud, pumping out potent sound that immerses us in the flamboyant club atmosphere. Dynamic range is superior, capturing every nuance of Aguilera's soaring, guttural vocals and Cher's throaty contralto. Surround presence is subtle but pronounced enough to pick up details and bits of ambience that nicely expand the audio field. Dialogue is well prioritized and always easy to comprehend, despite a wealth of competing elements, and bass frequencies possess marvelous weight without any annoying thumping. Of course, the track really ramps itself up during the songs, which possess excellent fidelity, presence, and purity of tone. A slight level boost raises the excitement level and thrusts us into the gaudy numbers, all of which beautifully resist distortion, despite all the unbridled belting. If you're a musicals fan, you'll really enjoy this superior lossless track.
A decent mix of supplements will please the film's fans.
'Burlesque' marks the return of Cher and the feature film debut of pop star Christina Aguilera, but that's about all this flimsy, uninteresting musical has to offer. A few good numbers briefly offset the boredom, but can't pump sufficient life into a trite, predictable tale. Video, audio, and extras are all quite good, but if the movie itself doesn't make the grade, who cares?