Some films surprise me with their ability to catch me off guard. Walking into “Burlesque,” I fully expected that I would spend the next 100 minutes with a sour look on my face, waiting for whatever musical number is playing to end so I could get back to rolling my eyes at the dialogue. To my surprise, director Steve Antin and a fantastic supporting cast managed to produce a very solid picture.
The first prejudice I had to get over was Christina Aguilera making her starring debut as Ali, the small town girl who finally gets enough cash together to buy a bus ticket to Los Angeles. First of all, her name is short for Alice, whereas I was reading it as “sounds like Muhammad ___” and I couldn’t suspend reality to the point where I could buy a set of parents in Iowa 30 years ago naming their blond haired, blue eyed girl after a post-converted to Islam Cassius Clay. My bad. That being said, Aguilera does as good as can be expected. I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and say that any problems I had with her character are with the writer (Mr. Antin), and even a stronger actress would have had difficulty.
Another thing that the movie reminded me of was just how great an actress Cher is. During the marketing for this film, whenever Cher would be mentioned, I would blow it off, as if they were trumpeting the return of Seal. Watching her performance as Tess, the owner of Burlesque, during this film, and especially her interplay with costar Stanley Tucci, reminded me of just how great an actress Cher has always been and how many potentially great performances we have missed while she has been away. Really, Hollywood, the only other directors that could find a role for her in a film this decade were the Farrelly Brothers in “Stuck on You”?
Kristen Bell is another standout in the stellar supporting cast. Billed a jaw-dropping eighth on the cast list, Ms. Bell needs to hire an agent with more pull, pronto. Doing most of the heavy lifting during her scenes with Aguilera, Bell plays Nikki, the star of the club before Ali shows up. Rumored to have been offered to both Jessica Biel and Lindsay Lohan, the producers should be grateful that an actress as professional as Bell took the role on. I shudder to think at the tabloid stories that would have come out if Lohan had been hired. Someone would have gotten a mascara brush to the eyeball.
So, once again I walk into a theater expecting the absolute worst in filmmaking only to walk out saying, “Not too bad!” If you are Pottered out, there are definitely worse ways to spend your admission dollars this weekend.