Film Friday: ‘Burlesque’ and ‘Tangled’

by W. Andrew Powell

Christina Aguilera in Burlesque

Christina Aguilera in Burlesque

Opening this week at a theatre near you: Christina Aguilera and Cher star in the musical, Burlesque; Disney debuts their latest animated comedy, Tangled, starring Mandy Moore; Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal fall for each other in Love and Other Drugs; and a look at Faster, starring Dwayne Johnson.

Starring: Christina Aguilera, Cher, Cam Gigandet, Stanley Tucci, Kristen Bell, Alan Cumming
Director: Steve Antin

Rated: 5.5/10

Steve Antin’s Burlesque proves once again what so many directors have proven before: it is possible to take a decent cast, a proven concept, and half naked actors and still make a movie that’s more laugh-worthy than enjoyable.

Before I even went into the theatre I had a bad feeling about Burlesque–the filmmakers involved in Burlesque frankly inspire anything but confidence. Most notably on that list of would-be talents is Antin himself; a director whose biggest claim to fame is the fact that he played Troy in The Goonies, although maybe it’s worth mentioning that he’s also Pussycat Dolls founder Robin Antin’s brother.

There is a sparkle of something interesting in Burlesque though. If you can ignore the fact that the premise reeks of a basic rip off of Moulin Rouge and Showgirls, Cher is still an astounding lead, which frankly amazed me, and the supporting cast is filled with interesting, talented character actors like Stanley Tucci, Alan Cumming, and even newcomer Cam Gigandet.

And we haven’t even started talking about Christina Aguilera.

Following the resourceful, young Ali, played by Aguilera, Burlesque is essentially a musical about a middle-American waitress who moves to Hollywood to make a name for herself. After little success in the big city though, Ali happens to wander into a burlesque club run by the hard-working Tess, played by Cher, where Ali begs for a job on the stage.

Making enemies with the venomous Nikki, played by Kristen Bell, Ali eventually convinces Tess to take her on as a dancer where she quickly becomes the star of the show. Her life is somewhat complicated though by a chance robbery that leaves Ali with no money, and no place to stay. The only solution, of course, is for her to end up bunking with the dreamy-yet-taken bartender, played by Cam Gigandet, as the extremely wealthy Marcus, played by Eric Dane, also begins to take an interest in her.

Meanwhile, Tess is fighting to keep the club in business as her ex begs her to sell to Marcus before she forfeits on her mortgage.

Featuring the reliable camera work of cinematographer Bojan Bazelli, and art and set direction by Chris Cornwell and Dena Roth, respectively, Burlesque looks exactly as promised. The sets sparkle like every 20-something’s brightest Hollywood dream and there is glitz and glamour mixed in with the ruddiness of a club that has seen better days.

Burlesque suffers though because Antin and film editor Virginia Katz constantly stumble all over each other. Initially, it’s the editing that drove me nuts because Katz’s edits are frequently bone-jarringly timed, cutting scenes at moments that do not feel natural, or missing important continuity errors. Overall though, it’s obviously Antin who deserves the blame.

As a the writer and director, Antin turns Burlesque into a wavering farce that soars almost every time Cher has a scene with Stanley Tucci, who plays Tess’ club manager, and then falters during the next scene when the singing and the dancing begins. He simply can’t weave a compelling story amongst the singing and dancing, and coupled with the uneven editing, it makes for a laugh-worthy experience.

For a film that’s also supposed to be steamy and sultry, Burlesque feels safe and mild with only a few costume choices belying any sense of the sexy burlesque spirit. Maybe the producers tamed the whole movie down a bit, to make the film easier to sell, but it was a mistake for a film that feels like it otherwise coasts along on Cher’s charisma and Aguilera’s vocals.

Aside from her vocals, Aguilera is a surprisingly wonderful lead though. She stands out in all of her scenes, and she nailed the cutesy girl routine. She also had great chemistry with Gigandet, and with Cher for the brief moments they shared the screen.

The characters only go so far when you look at the whole picture though, and Burlesque is simply too silly, unconvincing, and safe to make it worth the cost of admission. Considering how frequently the audience laughed during the screening I attended, when they really weren’t mean to, the only thing I can recommend is checking this dud out when it sings and dances its way onto home video.

Also opening this week…

Starring: Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy, Ron Perlman, Jeffrey Tambor, Paul F. Tompkins
Director: Nathan Greno and Byron Howard

Mandy Moore voices Rapunzel, a feisty long-haired princess who is trapped inside a tower where she has lived alone for a very long time. When the charming bandit Flynn, voiced by Zachary Levi, shows up in her tower, she finds her first chance to leave and explore the world for the first time.

Earning near-magical reviews from critics, Tangled looks like an easy win this weekend for box office gold, and it will likely hold onto a steady flow of movie loves right up until the end of the year.

“Tangled, Disney’s 50th animated feature, is a splendid tribute to the best moments from decades past but also a thrilling example of what could be the future of animated family entertainment from the studio,” wrote Jennie Punter for the Globe and Mail.

Love and Other Drugs
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jake Gyllenhaal, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, Ray Godshall Sr., Gabriel Macht, Judy Greer
Director: Edward Zwick

Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal star in the adapted story of a salesman selling Viagra, and his relationship woes as he meets a new woman who finally makes him open up to the idea of love.

Reviews for the film have been very mixed overall, and Claudia Puig of USA Today made that clearer as she wrote in her review: “Zwick’s Once and Again and thirtysomething portrayed emotion more honestly than many TV shows of their time. But in Love and Other Drugs, he unevenly weds the satirical and the sentimental.”

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Carla Gugino, Moon Bloodgood, Maggie Grace
Director: George Tillman Jr.

And for the action junkies out there, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars in George Tillman Jr.’s shoot-’em-up about Driver, an ex-con who is trying to find out who murdered his brother during a bank robbery gone wrong. As he hunts down his man, he’ll have to deal with a hit man who is gunning for him, and a veteran cop played by Billy Bob Thornton.

Earning mostly poor reviews from critics, Faster is likely worth skipping this weekend, although critic Kirk Honeycutt of the Hollywood Reporter called it “A throwback to the ’70s — straight action with a few clever twists, all anchored by solid characters actors.”

On the other hand, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, “Rotate the plot, change the period, spruce up the dialogue, and this could have been a hard-boiled 1940s noir. But it doesn’t pause for fine touches and efficiently delivers action for an audience that likes one-course meals.”

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