Risqué busi­ness

ends up flat­tened by its own gaudy, hyper-camp­ness, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

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.

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