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BURLESQUE

**

Surely no one out there really believes that tired line about film critics wanting to hate whatever pictures they catch on the job? On the contrary, like everyone else, reviewers want to be entertained, enchanted and even educated for those two hours in the dark. Admittedly, though, there's that occasional rare flick that -- whether through plot, casting, trailer, what-have-you -- looks so awful that a deliriously bad time seems assured.

Sight unseen, that initially appeared to be the case with Burlesque. Let's examine the evidence, shall we? An aging entertainer returning to the screen after being away for years. (Think Mae West in the ghastly Myra Breckinridge.) A pop sensation in her first major big-screen role. (Think Mariah Carey in the abysmal Glitter.) A musical milieu that has been the site of some enduring camp classics. (Think Showgirls, Staying Alive, etc.)

Alas, in the case of Burlesque, 'tis not meant to be. Certainly, the film contains some risible moments, but nothing wretched enough to plunge it into the bowels of bad cinema. Ultimately, it's too competently made to be a genuine stinker yet too indebted to hoary show biz clichés to come close to succeeding.

It's punishingly overlong (even at just under two hours), yet it does provide some flashes of entertainment bang for the matinee-price buck. For what it's worth, it's probably the best 2-star movie of 2010 -- and if that's a prime example of damning with faint praise, it's nevertheless the best I can muster.

Cher, her face as immobile as a kabuki mask (and far less expressive), receives top billing but actually plays second fiddle to Christina Aguilera; the latter is just OK as Ali, who leaves her podunk Iowa town in the hopes of making it in LA. It's not long before she stumbles across an intriguing nightclub called Burlesque.

"Is this a strip club?" she asks the doorman (Alan Cumming), whose reply ("I should wash your mouth out with Jagermeister!") represents, for better or worse, the script's best line. From there, everything proceeds according to formulaic plan: She snags a job at the joint waiting tables, wins the grudging respect of club owner Tess (Cher) and Tess' gay BFF (film MVP Stanley Tucci), lands a hottie boyfriend (Cam Gigandet), clashes with the venue's bitchy star (a miscast Kristen Bell, whose vamp is about as toothless as a newborn baby), and -- you go, girl! -- gets that big break that turns her into an overnight sensation. About the only thing missing is someone barking, "You're going out a youngster, but you've got to come back a star!" ... although I can't guarantee that wasn't in an earlier draft of the script.

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