ends up flattened by its own gaudy, hyper-campness, writes Donald Clarke
OH COME ON. It’s just a bit of fun.
Every now and then a film comes along that dares you to be a spoilsport. Sure, there’s no trace of a story. Yes, the picture breaks new ground in the field of creative disorder. It may even star someone like Cher (or, possibly, Cher herself). But everyone is having such a fabulously camp time that – this is the film’s argument, you understand – only a malcontent would bother waving his stick at it. You remember Mamma Mia!. Don’t you? Hmm?
The unambiguously titled Burlesque is certainly making these familiar gestures. Juiced up with a dozen gratuitously sparkly performances, Stevin Antin’s film never whispers when it can straddle a bejewelled pole and bellow triumphantly into a blazing follow-spot.
There is a plot, but it’s the same plot that held aloft every second post-war musical. Christina Aguilera plays a midwestern dancer who, working in the bar of a glitzy LA revue club, gets one chance to shine when the principal dancer becomes indisposed. All that’s asked is you let your inhibitions down and swallow the glowing Kool-Aid.
Unfortunately, the songs aren’t good enough, the characters are too flimsy, and a wearying degree of homogeneity eliminates any suggestions of light and shade. Quite literally. Antin, an actor and screenwriter making his directorial debut, bathes every scene in the same tobacco-coloured glow. The characters rarely leave the club, but, when they do, every shop, sidewalk and hot-dog stand turns out to have been lit for a cognac commercial.
More problematic still, by inviting every personality to indulge in hyper-fabulosity, the film-makers create a situation where, because its opposite is nowhere to be seen, camp ceases to register. Even Aguilera’s love interest (played by a vapour named Cam Gigandet) gets to plaster-on the eye-liner and dress in a fetching sailor suit. When Cher, playing the financially troubled club impresario, unleashes that extraordinary roar – a foghorn discharged in a tiled room – it is rendered that bit less extraordinary by the gaudy madness all around. Imagine an action film that’s all fireballs and you’ll get some sense of the tonal imbalance.
All of which rather let’s down Ms Aguilera. The star turns out to be a decent actor. Let’s hope that a lead performer soon breaks a coccyx and she gets another chance.