Stripped of originality

IT’S NOT exactly yet another remake of A Star is Born, but Burlesque (US/12A/119 mins) is the latest Hollywood movie to tell the time-honoured tale of a star-struck hopeful who arrives in LA a nobody and triumphs against the odds to see her name up in lights.

In this case, the ingénue is Ali (Christina Aguilera), a naïve waitress from Iowa, who is bowled over by the risqué dance routines on show at the Burlesque Lounge, run by Tess (Cher). But Ali isn’t content to simply steal the spotlight away from brattish diva Nikki (Kristen Bell).

Rather than lip-synch to classic songs, Ali wants to sing live, while she disports herself on stage. Will such a radical departure from the burlesque tradition prove enough to save Tess’s beloved club from being bought out by sleazy millionaire, Marcus (Eric Dane)? And can star-in-the-making, Ali, find love with humble bartender, Jack (Cam Gigandet)?

There’s no prizes for guessing how Burlesque pans out, but neither is there anything to be gained from complaining about how, in Hollywood, ‘time-honoured’ is another way of saying ‘clichéd’. Yes, Burlesque is predictable, but it’s surprisingly agreeable, with much of the credit going to Aguilera in the lead role. Her abilities as an actress may be modest, but she brings an ineffable quality of likeability to her role, allowing her to steal most of the scenes in which she appears and to have the audience rooting for Ali to succeed.

Aguilera’s reputation as a raunchy pop star precedes her, of course, and makes her ideal to play the part of the show-stopping dancer, but writer-director, Steve Antin, makes a sharp, and, for the most part successful, distinction between the tarty on-stage Ali and her more thoughtful, reticent, off-stage alter ego.

Elsewhere, the cast is something of a curate’s egg: Cher has wonderful presence, until such time as the script requires her to talk, when certain cosmetic issues cause her to emote with a slight slur, while Gigandet’s role demands little of him but the ability to remove his shirt without blushing too furiously. Stanley Tucci is hilariously camp as Tess’s second-in-command, but Eric Dane and Peter Gallagher are largely wasted in their roles as ciphers for male inadequacy.

As for the song-and-dance routines, the 12A certificate means that they’re more nice than naughty, but Aguilera is compellingly watchable once the lights dim. The film isn’t even remotely believable, but if tawdry glamour, raw-throated MOR pop songs and a half-hearted homage to Cabaret (1972) beeps your jeep, you’ll get plenty of bang for your buck here.

The original Tron (1982) was a ground-breaking affair, and remains something of a cult classic for its exploration of how the electronic world might look were someone to get inside a computer and wander around. That someone was Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), who disappeared into the computer’s matrix, and Tron: Legacy (US/PG/127 mins) concerns itself with Flynn’s son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) attempting to discover what happened to his father all those years ago.

Aided by Zuse (Michael Sheen) and Quorra (Olivia Wilde), Sam sets out to explore the cyber universe, only to find himself embroiled in a very real and very dangerous game. Debutant director, Joseph Kosinski, is careful not to upset any electronic apple carts in this faithful sequel, and while Tron: Legacy expands the universe so radically imagined almost 30 years ago, it takes very few liberties with the basic template.

There are a number of in-joke nods to Tron fans, in particular a revamp of the light cycle sequence, which here plays out on multiple levels, but, for the most part, the sequel can be enjoyed as a standalone film for anyone who hasn’t seen the original.

The performances are entirely adequate, but they’re very much secondary to the visual experience, which (quelle surprise) employs 3D to enhance the original’s impact. That the special effects are impressive almost goes without saying, but there’s an alienating quality to them, as well, and there are times when the experience is frustratingly akin to watching an uncontrollable avatar jump through the hoops of a computer game. Perhaps that sense of alienation and helplessness is intentional, given the extent to which soulless computers now run our lives, but that doesn’t make the sensation any more enjoyable. Tron: Legacy is a solid sci-fi action adventure that doesn’t make too many demands on those members of its audience who aren’t tech-heads, but it might have been a better film if it had.

ANIMALS United (Germany/G/92 mins) is an animated tale in which meerkat, Billy, and his lion pal, Socrates, set out to rescue the animals of the Okavango Delta from a potentially lethal drought. At the time of going to press, no screening had been made available.

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