Christina Aguilera is all about syllables. She has a massive set of pipes, and she can hit lots of notes. Loudly. But when it comes to actually tugging at the heartstrings, that’s a different story. So for her big-screen acting debut, writer and director Steve Antin—who is perhaps best known for co-starring in 1982’s The Last American Virgin—has given her a loose remake of Coyote Ugly, but without the charm. Aguilera plays Ali, a small-town girl who dreams of singing and strutting on stage. She works her way from waitress to lip-syncing, and she eventually shocks everyone by singing for “real” (though Aguilera mostly lip-syncs).
Oscar-winner Cher is here for backup, in her first real role since Franco Zeffirelli’s Tea With Mussolini in 1999, but she’s given some truly horrible dialogue to speak. You might have seen her wincing except that her face doesn’t move anymore. Only Stanley Tucci manages to breathe a little life into his scenes by—gasp!—slowing down and relaxing.
As long as Antin can keep his cast of hot girls dancing around in stockings and heels, then the ridiculous plot about losing the club—or the whiny, chiseled boyfriend (Cam Gigandet) with the absent fiancée, or the African-American dancer named Coco (no joke), or what have you—can be dismissed. Antin has no real ideas as to how to shoot this stuff: He mostly tries to copy Moulin Rouge and Chicago, but comes closer to recalling Mariah Carey’s Glitter. We get quick cuts while the characters are onstage and hand-held shots during a “tense” breakup scene. It’s meant to be flashy and modern, while using the creakiest writing imaginable to reminisce about an old showbiz style.
Real burlesque performers like Marlene Dietrich, Gypsy Rose Lee and Josephine Baker could seduce the crowd with one smoldering look, but all the strutting and syllables in the world can hardly do the same thing here. Burlesque makes a point of not being about a strip club, but perhaps they should have just given up and brought in the poles.