Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
"Burlesque" is a film that is obviously trying to evoke a mood similar to that of a Fosse musical, but it never even comes close. Perhaps the filmmakers thought that all it takes is putting together a few choreographed dance numbers on a stage to get the full effect, and if that's so, then they are sadly mistaken. It takes some good music, talented singers, and a little thing I mention now and again: a story worth our while.
Ali (Christina Aguilera), a waitress, decides to quit her job one day in Iowa and take a bus to LA where she hopes to make it big as a singer/dancer. After several attempts to land a job doing just that, she stumbles upon a small burlesque club run by Tess (Cher). Ali tries to get Tess to let her audition as a dancer, but is turned away. In her determination, Ali picks up a tray and puts her waitress skills to use which at least lands her that job. When she returns home to her apartment after her first day, she finds that she's been robbed which leads her to stay with a fellow employee of the club, Jack (Cam Gigandet), with whom she begins a relationship.
Eventually Ali is allowed to show off her dance skills while Tess is auditioning other girls. Tess is impressed enough to allow her on stage on a regular basis. Ali quickly becomes a hit at the club while her relationship with the engaged Jack continues. Meanwhile, we learn that Tess is in danger of losing the club unless she is able to come up with a large sum of money.
I don't think there's one bit of this story that isn't clichéd. A young hopeful comes to LA looking to make it big. Someone's in danger of losing their business unless they can come up with a lot of money in a short time span. The writer/director, Steve Antin, even felt it necessary to use the common element of romantic-comedies where the obvious couple slowly realize they like each other, hits a rough patch where we're supposed to think things won't work out, only to find that exactly what we knew would happen finally does.
In this sense, the movie feels pretty much plotless. Along with being entirely clichéd, the story is pretty thin in the first place and merely acts as something to barely hold the musical numbers together. The same can be said of the mediocre script which doesn't give anyone the least interesting thing to do or say, save perhaps Stanley Tucci's character, who is there for some much-needed comic relief. He plays an employee of the club who helps out with costumes and has a thing for Tess.
The music of the first half of the film was alright for the most part. Apparently it was a tradition at the burlesque club to have the women dance to the music while lip syncing the lyrics. This is until a jealous coworker of Ali's tries to ruin a performance of hers by unplugging her microphone. However, this doesn't stop Ali, who decides to save the show by doing some actual singing. This is where the music takes a turn for the worse. The music had been fine up to this point, but once Christina Aguilera tried to sing, it was all downhill from there.
The choreography to the dance numbers is not particularly bad, but nor is it particularly good (it became hard to tell sometimes with all the frenzied editing). As I mentioned earlier, they are obviously trying to go for something along the lines of Fosse's "Chicago" or "Cabaret," but all they end up doing is making you think that you'd rather be watching those movies instead.
It would be easy to continue on with the list of flaws (sub-par performances, an exceedingly bloated runtime of about two hours), but it should be clear by now that it's simply not worth the time. What Antin should take away from this experience is that it takes a lot more than a clichéd-filled story, some dancing, forgettable music, and a bland script to make an interesting and engaging musical. 1.5/4 stars.