Burlesque (2010)

(In theaters, December 2010) Burlesque does quite a few things blandly or badly, but the real test of musical comedies is whether they deliver the expected music, laughs, dance choreographies and smiles whenever the final credits start to roll.  So it is that we can’t really fault the film for an intensely familiar structure, predictable plot developments, weaker tunes or a very PG interpretation of “burlesque”; not as long as it has enough song-and-dance.  There are plenty of good news: Christina Aguilera proves to be a credible actress, Cher looks amazingly good for her age (and you can see this as an invitation to cue all of the usual cosmetic surgery jokes), Stanley Tucci is as good as he usually is, the somewhat better-than-usual banter probably comes from Diablo Cody’s screenwriting and in terms of choreography, Burlesque has more or less what we can expect from a contemporary musical.  Unfortunately, there is little here to set the film apart from more notable musicals: The songs are instantly forgettable (the one exception, a maudlin solo number by Cher, stays in mind because it uses the flimsiest of pretexts to stop the entire film dead in its tracks), the plot offers few surprises, the choreography of each number blurs into an indistinct mush, and the choice to play much of the story earnestly rather than as ironic camp seems like a modestly wasted opportunity.  There’s no risk-taking here, and the film’s family-friendly take on neo-burlesque is a telling clue as to what kind of middle-American target the filmmakers were aiming for.  Fortunately, there are still enough fancy fishnet stockings on display to resort to sheer sex-appeal when the film’s other qualities prove defective.  No matter what, there is at least some redemption in the mud: Burlesque may be ordinary, but it’s not often boring.

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