Guilty pleasures
‘Burlesque’ and ‘Faster’ offer holiday brain candy
 

by Willie Krischke

The holiday season was a good time for at the movie theaters. While big, ambitious, Oscar-baiting movies like “Black Swan,” “The King’s Speech” and “The Fighter” showed in the big cities, Durango had a taste of some B-listers worthy of a few hours of mindless entertainment.

Burlesque

“Burlesque” was a big, shiny song-and-dance movie that falls somewhere between “Showgirls” and “Moulin Rouge.” Christina Aguilera plays an Iowa girl who moves to L.A. to sing and dance. She finds herself in a club called “The Burlesque,” run by Cher and headlined by Kristen Bell. Naturally, through grit, determination and talent, Aguilera goes from being an unpaid waitress to the star of the show, and saves the club from bankruptcy in the process. Well, sort of. She saves the club, but it’s with her business acumen, not her singing and dancing. But whatever. It’s best not to think too hard about movies like this one. Just let them sort of wash over you, and you’ll be fine.

Aguilera won me over – I liked her much more than I expected to. I really wouldn’t have minded if “Burlesque” had been a rags-to-riches story, and the title club just her first stop on her way to glory. But instead, it wants to be about that little club, and I didn’t really care about it all that much. That’s due primarily to Cher, who just seemed tired through the whole movie. She begins her big, show-stopping number with “Let’s get this over with.” She’s supposed to be fighting to keep her little club, but one wonders if that’s what’s really best for her. She looks so weary and sick of it all that maybe she should sell the club, and spend some time in a community garden. It might do her some good.

Stanley Tucci is Cher’s gay costume designer and long-time compadre in Burlesque, and is by far the best, funniest, freshest thing about this film. He not only has the best lines, (“Tell me a new lie,” Cher moans. “I don’t love you,” he answers) he does the best with the worst lines, sometimes making utterly ridiculous drivel sound almost believable. Alan Cummings appears every now and then as the doorkeeper, and seems to be the only one who really understand what burlesque is about. “The Burlesque” is not a strip club, and a burlesque dance is not a striptease or a Broadway dance. To put it simply, burlesque is stranger than either. It ought to involve contortionists, and dirty jokes, and sometimes fire-breathing and juggling. The song-and-dance numbers in “Burlesque” are best when the producers remember this. Once Aguilera takes centerstage, however, the numbers grow bland and generic. There’s unlikely to be single song in “Burlesque” you’ll find yourself humming the next day, and I doubt the soundtrack will be a big seller.

But “Burlesque” is guilty fun. It never lacks in glitter, glamour or pizzazz. My wife wanted to see this one, and afterwards, I asked her what she thought. “I had fun,” she said. “It’s not going to win any Oscars, but it was pretty much what I wanted it to be.” Well said.

Faster

Meanwhile, “Faster” is a movie about a man, a car, a gun and a list of names. The car is a ’71 Chevelle SS. The gun is a Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan .454. This is not a movie I’d take my wife to.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is the man, who gets out of prison with revenge on his mind. I’ve got to hand it to Johnson, everything about this movie says “badass,” and it would be acceptable – and easy – to play his character with the imperturbable coolness (and woodenness) of a Charles Bronson or Steven Seagal. Instead, he looks like a man barely containing his pain and fury. He hardly has 10 lines in the movie, but he communicates with his face and posture, like a real actor would. Not that there’s a terrible lot to communicate.

There’s a cop, played by Billy Bob Thornton, or rather, his costume designer, who has done him up in corduroys and butterfly collars. The wardrobe does more than the actor with the role. He’s 10 days from retirement, hooked on junk, and just trying to stay alive until the end of the movie. He’s also centrally involved in the film’s major twist, which you’ll see coming a mile away, but I won’t give it away just to be nice and make you feel smart.

There’s also an assassin, though he’s a weird bird for sure. When we first meet him, he’s in the process of an impossibly difficult yoga routine, while his impossibly beautiful girlfriend sleeps upstairs. He wakes her up to tell her he’s “beaten” yoga, and won’t be doing it anymore. Thus, he’s in the market for a new challenge. His psyhotherapist (oh, yeah, he totally has one) convinces him to get married and start a family, because being an international hit man isn’t difficult or thrilling enough for him. Now how do you like that – a Man film, a film that stars a pro wrestler and co-stars his car, slyly suggesting that staying in a relationship and raising a family might be more challenging and rewarding than chasing bad guys in fast cars with big guns. Didn’t see that coming.

When the assassin meets Johnson, he calls his girlfriend and geeks out. “The guy is completely artless – but pure.” And that’s a pretty good description of “Faster.” It plays like a Quentin Tarantino film, but without the irony. This is a movie built on the premise that Man + Gun + Car = Movie. And because it doesn’t try to add any frills or be all clever or profound, it actually works. No, it’s not a great film. Like “Burlesque,” it’s not going to win any Oscars. But like the chick flick I wrote about above, it delivers just what it promises. •

 

 

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