It’s not! If you like camp, if you like musicals, if you like comically bad acting, Burlesque is a decent night out. Definitely a solid rental-in. Here’s the thing—it’s bad. Like really, really bad. The lighting is hilariously soft, like Red Shoe Diaries, soft-core porn soft. Everything is doused in that buttery yellow light that screams “bow-chicka-wow-ow”. The lighting is especially insane around Xtina—it’s like they had a bet going as to which technician could make her look the most like a Barbie doll.
The acting is bad. Xtina isn’t nearly as awful as Mariah Carey was in Glitter, but she certainly won’t be winning any awards (except maybe a Razzie). When being catty or bantering with one of her two love interests (Cam Gigandet, Twilight, or Eric Dane, Grey’s Anatomy) she isn’t entirely horrible. But mostly her acting handbook consisted of, “If I open my eyes really wide everyone will know I am naïve,” and, “If I speak loudly and quickly people will think I’m sincere.” Any time Xtina had to be earnest or emote it was a train wreck. And when she had to emote with Gigandet, it was nerve shatteringly terrible.
And the direction! Steve Antin, who also wrote the script, was an actor on NYPD Blue but obviously he’s jettisoned the tradecraft that show was known for, like subtlety, tension, pacing, and plot. There is no plot here—it’s just a string of clichés keeping things moving between musical numbers. Consistency and rhythm are figments of your imagination in Burlesque—a motif of Xtina fantasizing herself into elaborate song-and-dance numbers is dropped no sooner than you recognize it and the movie grinds to a halt several times so that Cher can sing us a song or deliver a monologue.
However—and this is a big however—when Burlesque works is when those song-and-dance numbers come up. Cher doesn’t dance (I don’t think she can anymore as her muscles have all been replaced with silicone and Teflon) but Xtina and Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars) acquit themselves ably. The production numbers are elaborate, interesting, and varied. My favorite was a classic burlesque routine with ostrich feather fans and a disappearing pearl bikini. It was a great nod to the Vaudevillian roots of burlesque and Xtina is adorable in it. And of course when she sings—she has such a great voice and whatever Antin lacks as a feature film director (pretty much everything), he kind of makes up for it with his ability to stage these routines and to spotlight Xtina’s vocals. Cher also sounds good but her face is so fucking terrifying that I couldn’t get into her big solo number. The muscles in her face were trying desperately to move and accommodate the rigors of such singing but her lips refused to move. Truly frightening.
Another saving grace is Stanley Tucci. Why he likes to be in these terrible dance movies (and Peter Gallagher, too, don’t think I forgot you were in Center Stage) I’ll never understand, but he has the knack of elevating those around him. Gigandet, for instance, is enjoyable when he’s bantering with Xtina but he doesn’t exactly deliver on the emotional level. But with Tucci, he seems a little more relaxed, a bit more natural. Tucci also pulls Cher out of some, but unfortunately not all, of her grandiose moments. It’s not so much that Tucci is exerting himself in Burlesque so much as his natural screen presence and talent manages to make everyone around him look better.
So no, Burlesque is not good, but it is entertaining and it’s so bad it’s kind of hilarious and I have seen much, much more offensively bad movies this year than this one. I can’t wait till someone makes a YouTube mashup of all the dance numbers. And then someone needs to make a mashup of all “emoting” scenes so we can have a laugh whenever we need one.