By Amy Nicholson
“Get your ass up, show me how you burlesque,” growls Christina Aguilera in one of this indulgent movie’s indulgent musical numbers that swagger with pearls, glitter and red lipstick—if not grammatical verb usage. Writer-director Steve Antin’s tarted up a great guilty pleasure that hews to the farm-girl-becomes-a-star framework, but adds extra flourishes. Don’t judge Burlesque by its clichés—it’s got ’em all and who cares. Note Antin’s extra shimmies: Stanley Tucci’s scene-stealing turn as the club’s man of costumes and advice, the grand entrance of Cher who nails her role as a diva shaded by pride, regret and untapped maternalism. Underneath the rhinestones, Antin’s made a character piece with credit due as much to casting as to his script. And he’s unrepentant about shoe-horning in moments for his cast to shine; you giggle at the lead-foot obviousness when Cher decides to practice her new ballad, ”You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me,” after hours, but damned if she doesn’t kill it with her warm, warbling forte as though with every note she’s apologizing for launching Auto-Tune. Kristen Bell is miscast as a sexpot who sees Aguilera as a threat, but Aguilera herself is damned decent in a performance that feels tailored to her limitations. She’s no actress—at least, not yet—but she can own a stage. Antin’s smartly crafted her role, keeping that voice under wraps from the other characters until halfway through the film. (“How do you do that!?” a fellow dancer gushes. “It just comes out,” says Aguilera, a non-answer so tossed off and true it can only come from someone born with a gift.) But the best move Antin makes is to muss up his heroine. She’s no naïf corrupted by the big city; she’s a scrapper who gives as good as she gets. Aguilera gets to smile when her successes come at other girls’ misfortunes, to hit back when they get catty. Even her crush (Cam Gigandet) is affianced to another woman, giving the mandatory romantic subplot some claws. She and the film around her work for what they want, even if we think their goals are cornball. Like his leading lady does here, Antin must have also gone home at night to read stacks of books on burlesque. They might be picture books, but effort counts.