Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway Burlesque We all get excited by what we think we shouldn't see. In 1992, as an undergrad at the University of Miami, I got excited by Paul Verhoeven, the director of over-sexed films like "Basic Instinct" and the vapid but flashy "Showgirls". Because of the hype and high, I thought I was peeking at something forbidden, flashing images that seemed numinous, sexy and occult. If only for a few minutes. In watching "Burlesque", I recalled some of that feeling from long ago. Alone in the dark watching the projected rays of cleavage born from light. And just maybe I might see something unexpected. There is that familiar cinema darkness. Then the camera opens on a small Midwestern Iowa town. Bright blue sky. An old rustic bar. We are in the twenty-first century but the setting might as well be an old postcard enhanced by computer graphics---The Old West.
Ali (Christina Aguilera) is an unhappy bartender who wants out. She dreams of big Hollywood and wants to dance. (yes, like so many movies before). Ali gives notice in a breathy huff. She closes up. Even though the story has been much repeated and the plot is as thin as nail polish, Christina Aguilera comes off as a crafty, covert and comically-charged Betty Boop with more Pop Art allure than Madonna in "Dick Tracy".
Ali walks the busy L.A. streets finally hitting club Burlesque in the California twilight. On the rickety landing one voluptuous dancer is dressing for the show, her face a droplet of sex in the semidarkness. For this one minute, it is a portrait painted in light, a Toulouse Lautrec re-imagined in for the 21st century. Excitement. Mystery. Maybe even something scary in the unseen. But when the light gives away the confines of the club, the camera races and the pace of the film mimics the quick staccato pulses of a Victoria's Secret commercial rather than the haunting beauty of a new Moulin Rouge in motion.
There is Broadway veteran Alan Cumming in the club as a doorman MC. He has the aura of Joel Grey seen through the lens of a vampire with the impish smirk of Pee Wee Herman. Even the bartender wears mascara. If only the club had real vampires.
Ali doesn't know what to do but she smiles and sighs, then she just picks up the glasses. Voila, she's a waitress!
The bartender (Cam Gigandel) spends half the time with his shirt off and looks like a model, but that's the idea. Flesh works both ways.
Allie manages to crash at his place. After all, she can't go out in the rain! I guess taxis aren't cool enough for her.
The next day she catches the eye of Tess during an audition. She'll have to work her way up. Tess, played by Cher, is half Diva and half Dracula's Daughter and that is also part of the fun. Throw into the mix a jealous dancer Nikki played by Kristen Bell, whose performance is more than a bit similar to Winona Ryder in "Black Swan" and there is enough breezy kitsch to keep your eyes in candy. The sole interest in the film is the mixture of comedy and inky melodrama provided by Christina Aguilera. Through her three dimensional voice, she can either be a Betty Boop or a blues woman, outlined in the sexiness of Jessica Rabbit. Her magic in the role is that she is genuine and unforced. Often Aguilera seems the only human character on screen. Perhaps this is not by chance.
The oddest scene in the movie is to see the Morticia-like Cher next to the ingenue Christina. Will she one day become like Cher? The contrast is both striking and similar. It is a haunting moment. And even though the abrupt tycoon (Eric Dane) is defeated in seconds, I still couldn't look away. I just had to peer through the darkness. Sent from my iPhone