Burlesque is a terrible film that will delight nearly everyone who sees it, whether they’re 12-year-old Christina Aguilera fans or bad-movie buffs angling for a guilty pleasure. Burlesque delivers exactly what it promises, and then some: It’s a glittering neon valentine to divadom so exquisitely, unapologetically gay that Alan Cumming’s homage to Joel Grey in Cabaret actually constitutes one of its butcher elements. The screenplay sometimes suggests an overachieving direct-to-DVD sequel to Showgirls, so good in an egregiously awful fashion that someone decided to give it the A-list treatment and rope in big-name talent like Christina Aguilera—who finally has a Crossroads or Glitter to call her own—and Cher, who here completes her evolution from camp diva to Academy Award-winning dramatic actress back into camp diva.
Aguilera stars as a Small-Town Girl from Nowheresville, Iowa who quits her thankless job as a waitress and heads to The Big City to Make It. We’re in the land of archetypes here, so each new character is a variation on one we’ve seen thousands of time before, most particularly in Showgirls. In L.A., Aguilera scores a job as a waitress at a burlesque club run by saintly Cher, and eventually makes her way onto the stage. There, she becomes the club’s star attraction, but will her rapid rise to glory be enough to keep the club from falling into the clutches of a wealthy playboy (Eric Dane) who just so happens to be wooing Aguilera? Will our plucky heroine ultimately choose Dane or Cam Gigandet, an impossibly hunky bartender/aspiring songwriter with killer abs, big dreams, and a phantom actress girlfriend in New York who might just fall out of the picture whenever that proves narratively convenient?
Steve Antin’s job as writer and director primarily involves keeping his divas happy. Late in the film, Burlesque stops cold so Cher can deliver, with only the faintest of pretenses, her answer to Jennifer Hudson’s big “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” number from Dreamgirls. Why? Because Cher hasn’t had a huge dramatic moment for about 20 minutes, and Burlesque is committed to doling out an endless series of hysterically over-the-top climaxes borrowed from other show-biz melodramas. Burlesque is the kind of instant camp classic that audiences enjoy shouting along with countless times, à la Rocky Horror Picture Show or The Room. But the film hews so lovingly to genre conventions that anyone with even a passing familiarity of its clichés will be able to shout every line along with the actors the first time around.