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Cher Returns to the Big Screen in 'Burlesque'

A campy musical pairs a Hollywood icon with a young pop diva — and leaves us spellbound.


Courtesy Sony Pictures

Cher stars in Screen Gems' Burlesque.


Burlesque (PG-13)

En español  |  The simple but brilliant marketing tag for Screen Gems' much-anticipated musical Burlesque reads, "It takes a legend to make a star." How true it is. Without Cher, Burlesque wouldn’t work, but Cher couldn’t have done it alone either.

In his feature film debut, writer/director Steven Antin, best known for making music videos for The Pussycat Dolls and Girlicious, brilliantly casts the music and screen legend (it reportedly took some aggressive wooing to draw her from a seven-year hiatus) as Tess, proprietor of a classic Hollywood burlesque club, where she mamma-mentors a gaggle of glamorous and über-flexible girl dancers. In walks Christina Aguilera (known as Ali, with the accent on the A), a former waitress who has just high-tailed it out of Iowa with dreams of a life in the spotlight in Los Angeles. Cher has met her match.

No, this isn’t a competition. And, in truth, Tess serves less as Ali’s teacher than as her ticket into the family The Burlesque Lounge offers — a nurturing environment that Ali woefully lacks, as we learn her mother was killed when she was seven. We come to know little more about Ali the person until mid-movie, when she proves tenacious enough to win Tess’s approval to be part of her show. ("Burlesque," by the way, in no way implies "strip tease;" these dancers are cheeky and risqué, but what they're doing isn't sexual.) Later, Ali becomes Tess's star when she finally lets loose her vocal cords and sings, instead of lip-synching, after the sound system at the club gets yanked by a jealous Nikki (Kristen Bell), the former lead dancer.

Neither the script nor Aguilera's limited acting chops will satisfy the viewer looking for sophisticated character studies. That said, the familiar story Burlesque offers up is contagious: Innocent Midwestern talent heads to Hollywood, fights for a place for herself, gets recognized, and finds love while she's at it. It especially appealed to me that in Burlesque, the protége's fantasies are within reason: She wants to perform at the very cozily appealing Burlesque Lounge, even though her voice, according to opportunists such as Marcus (respectably played by the very handsome Eric Dane), could land her in a much bigger venue.

There is some decent acting in this movie, namely by up-and-comer Cam Gigandet, who plays the bartender and eventual love interest of Ali, as well as by Stanley Tucci, the right-hand man to Tess in the nightclub business. I was a little disappointed by Peter Gallagher, who plays Tess's ex-husband, a man beleaguered by the balloon payment coming due on the club. There's also a happy cameo by James Brolin.

Still, this isn't a movie about plot, or subtlety. I found simple pleasure sitting in the theater watching it, being taken completely away from the current landscape of economic shrinkage and international conflict, getting pounded by the rhythms emanating from The Burlesque Lounge.  I was especially wowed by the two numbers performed alone — "Welcome to Burlesque" and "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me."  That girl still has chops.