Movies: Burlesque **
(12A, General Release)
It might strike you as odd that a film about the murky world of exotic dancing would be released with a 12 certificate, but in Steven Antin's Burlesque we get a strip club that might have been designed by Walt Disney.
Well-fed and drug-free females strut their stuff before respectful audiences in an establishment run by a man and woman who come across more like parents than pimps.
In her first major film role, Christina Aguilera plays Ali Rose, a young woman who's escaped to Los Angeles from a two-horse town with high hopes of making it as a singer.
Initially, she finds the going tough, but when she arrives by chance in a joint called The Burlesque Lounge, she's enchanted by the glamour of it all.
A kindly barman called Jack (Cam Gigandet) befriends her, but when she approaches the formidable owner, Tess (Cher) about auditioning to become a dancer she gets short shrift.
Not one to give up, Ali wangles a job as a barmaid, and when one of the dancers fails to show up she seizes her chance and ends up on stage. Tess is impressed, but has other things to worry about, namely the club's finances, which are in a parlous state.
A flashy regular is threatening to buy her out, and Tess has a week to come up with some money.
The girls usually mime to music, but when Ali breaks into song one night after a jealous rival sabotages the sound system, the crowd goes wild and soon the queues are around the block to see her. Tess and Ali might just save the club together, with the help of Tess's faithful stage manager Sean (Stanley Tucci).
The plot, in other words, is as old as Methuselah, and the script is so full of strung-together clichés that I eventually stopped counting them. Burlesque, in truth, is tired stuff, and poor Cher's cosmetic surgery has left her looking so odd that unkind viewers at the screening I attended burst out laughing every time she spoke. Ms Aguilera, to be fair, is not a bad actress, but no one really escapes this mess with their pride intact.
Except, that is, for Tucci, an actor so skilled he can wring wit from lines that have none.