The term “burlesque ” for the uninitiated refers to a specific brand of female striptease that incorporates flamboyant costumes elaborate choreography kitschy songs and various other elements to which heterosexual men are largely indifferent. But it’s wildly popular in other circles -- so much so in fact that it has earned its very own film titled oddly enough Burlesque.
Written and directed by music video veteran Steven Antin Burlesque is fashioned loosely as a camp homage to the 2000 film Coyote Ugly. Stage and screen legend Cher brought to life by an innovative blend of animatronics and CGI stars as Tess the brash tough-as-nails proprietress of Hollywood's almost unbearably fabulous Burlesque Lounge. Despite the obvious popularity of its musical revue the club is plagued by money problems which makes it the target of acquisitive real estate developer Marcus Gerber (Eric Dane) a man whose name alone carries all sorts of ominous Teutonic implications. But Tess determined diva that she is refuses to sell. She's not about to let years of gross financial mismanagement kill her dream of providing a haven where scantily clad women can dance provocatively without fear of encountering men who’d like to sleep with them.
Potential salvation arrives in the luminous top-heavy form of Iowa-bred Ali (Christina Aguilera) a vision of wide-eyed innocence and vaulting ambition in soft focus. Immediately upon entering the Lounge she is struck by the sudden realization that her lifelong dream is to become a burlesque superstar. Unfortunately Tess doesn’t initially recognize Ali’s potential and the poor girl is forced to slum it as a cocktail waitress in the bar area where she’s embraced by the club’s straightgay bartender Jack (Cam Gigandet) a southern transplant whose own showbiz dream involves making it as a songwriter. (In accordance with songwriter tradition he takes pains to ensure that every inch of his chiseled frame is bronzed and waxed. Just like Bernie Taupin.) In her free time Ali devotes herself to the study of burlesque and when her opportunity arises she seizes it without hesitation.
Burlesque is principally the Cher and Christina Show and the film thrives when their respective talents are on display. (“Talents ” obviously gaining a dual meaning in regards to Aguilera.) Surrounding them are a smattering of stock characters pursuing forgettable story arcs the lone exception being the always excellent Stanley Tucci adding a pinkish hue to his incomparable wit in the role of Sean Tess’s long-suffering boa-clad second-in-command. He and co-star Alan Cumming are two sides of the same sassy coin but Cumming is little more than a bitchy bit player in Burlesque poking his head into the frame on occasion to deliver a biting one-liner. Then again that description could apply to any number of characters in the film.
It appears that Antin true to his music-video pedigree conceived of Burlesque with the song-and-dance pieces in mind first then set about building a story around them. (The opposite is generally preferred.) The musical set pieces are lavish sexy and at times truly dazzling especially when Aguilera takes the stage but they do little to advance the film’s plot. Consequently Burlesque’s running time swells to almost two hours to satisfy the demands of a story that frankly seem hardly worthy of such an effort.
Charlie (Michael Douglas) has been a mess for quite a while. A jazz musician who has battled schizophrenia and manic depression for years has spent the last couple living in a mental hospital. His 16-year-old daughter Miranda (Evan Rachel Wood) has been living on her own in the family home (mom is long gone) having quit school and gone to work at McDonald’s to make ends meet. When Charlie is released and comes home the pair begins to tentatively rebuild their relationship. The good news is that Charlie is taking his meds and handling the real world reasonably well; the bad is that he’s developed an obsession with a legendary cache of Spanish gold doubloons reportedly buried near their dusty California home. When Charlie begins to convince Miranda that he really isn’t crazy--at least when it comes to the treasure--together they begin a Don Quixote-like journey that cements their fractured relationship back together. Forget Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko the ultra-smooth Wall Street guy or as dashing Jack Colton of Romancing the Stone fame. These days Douglas now 62 has said he needs a really good reason to leave his family so this role where he can play a scraggly bearded wild-eyed edge-of-nuts guy is just the ticket. Douglas gives one of his best performances ever as Charlie striking just the right balance of intellect insanity and inherent love for his no-longer-little girl. Plus the man whose on-screen persona has often been all about male vanity is anything but that in King of California. He’s a scrawny whippet of a guy rather than a hunky leading man and it’s a transformation that just may get him another Academy Award nomination. Meanwhile 20-year-old Evan Rachel Wood proves that she really is an acting force to be reckoned with giving a gently nuanced performance as a girl who has had to grow up way too soon yet still completely loves the father who has struggled to care for her as he struggles with his personal demons. First-time writer/director Mike Cahill has done a first-rate job of bringing this quirky funny and slightly poignant story to the screen. Perhaps the reason he’s been so successful is in the company he keeps. A film-school friend of Oscar-winner Alexander Payne (Sideways About Schmidt) Cahill enlisted his producing help for his film along with Payne’s Sideways partner Michael London. King of California bears Cahill’s own stamp however--a combination of terrific visuals that often make wry satiric statements deftly melded with an assortment of memorable characters and situations. Perhaps his biggest strength is in the casting of the film in his choice of the two talented actors who bring a believability and sense of real family ties to their roles. With King of California Cahill begins what looks to be a long and beautiful friendship with moviegoers who love to be transported to interesting and funny places.
Ah the unwanted guest. It’s been the subject of many a movie. You know the kind: Messy doesn’t respect your privacy stops up the toilet has sex with someone in your living room using butter and nearly burns the house down. That’s Dupree (Wilson) to a tee and for newlyweds Carl (Matt Dillon) and Molly (Kate Hudson) having Dupree in their house is downright disastrous. At first Carl is psyched to have his best man as his couch guest while Molly is less than enthused with Dupree’s well-meaning antics. But when Molly starts feeling abandoned by Carl’s workaholic tendencies—as he in turn tries to impress his demanding new father-in-law (Michael Douglas)—suddenly Dupree’s good-natured personality and carefree wisdom is comforting to Molly much to Carl’s chagrin. But don’t fret. This three’s-a-crowd scenario will work out some kind of resolution as the loveable guest shows how a little inner Dupree-“ness” might just be one of life's hidden secrets. With Dupree Wilson is attempting to break away from the buddy comedies he’s known for such as Starsky and Hutch and Wedding Crashers in which he mostly plays the pithy straight man. There are definitely moments of true Wilson brilliance in Dupree especially when he’s avoiding a building security guard by throwing “seven different kinds of smoke” at him. But playing off someone slightly wackier than himself is really Wilson’s forte and in trying to carry a whole comedy on his own he’s not nearly as successful as say Jim Carrey or even Jack Black. It also doesn’t help that Hudson and Dillon aren’t able to pick up the slack. Hudson is appealing as the beleaguered Molly and Dillon seems to be getting better looking with age—but together they are one big ball of bland especially Dillon who is sorely miscast as the straight guy. On the other hand Douglas does a nice turn as the overprotective daddy who can’t let his little girl go. Basically Dupree is Wilson’s big vanity project. As the film’s main producer the funnyman shopped the script by first-timer Mike LeSieur around and got a deal right away—no doubt based on Wilson’s previous moneymaking comedies. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo brothers best known for helming Welcome to Collinwood as well as several episodes of TV’s Arrested Development do the best they can with the Dupree material. But it’s a shame Wilson doesn’t have the same discerning tastes as his frequent collaborator director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums). You Me and Dupree is just well ordinary and no amount of Wilson mad-cap energy and wily antics can raise it up into the comedic stratosphere.