Film reviews

Gregg Shapiro, Staff writer

‘Burlesque’

What do you get when actor-turned- writer/director Steve Antin unapologetically borrows from “Showgirls,” “Glitter,” “42nd Street” and even Bob Fosse? You get the derivative disaster that is “Burlesque” (it should be titled “Hurlesque”).

When Cher is the best actor on-screen, you know that something is amiss. In her dramatic debut, Christina Aguilera’s limited acting range makes Britney Spears look like Meryl Streep. Equally frightful is her hair, which can be explained one of two ways. Either she’s got a bisexual hairdresser or she gets her wigs from the shiksa collection at the Sheitel Shack. As if that wasn’t enough, the script is an embarrassment of clichés, a source of unintentional laughs, from the opening to the closing credits.

Ali (Christina Aguilera), a waitress in an Iowa (no doubt) diner, quits her dead-end job and buys a one-way bus ticket to Los Angeles. Fresh off the bus, clutching her copy of “Back Stage Magazine,” Ali stumbles upon the Burlesque Lounge and into a rehearsal, complete with faux-Fosse choreography.

Before you know it, she’s flirting with bartender and Kentucky transplant Jack (Cam Gigandet, the prettiest face and the best body in the entire movie). Even though Ali makes a less than promising impression on Tess (Cher), co-owner of and performance legend at Burlesque, Jack admires her spunk when she picks up a slacking waitress’s tray and begins filling drink orders. He hires her as a waitress.

Ali’s rapid rise through the ranks finds her dancing and, in spite of the long-standing lip-synching policy at the venue, belting her way to the top. To further complicate matters, she must juggle the amorous attentions of Jack (who, despite his eyeliner, is surprisingly not gay and has a fiancée in NYC!) and real-estate mogul-monster Marcus (Eric Dane). Not to mention the threat of the closing of Burlesque due to the bad business acumen of Tess’ business partner and ex-husband Vince (Peter Gallagher, busily nibbling at the scenery). Naturally, Marcus is there, offering to buy the club at below-market rate because he has his own plans for the property.

Tess’ longtime gay-pal and wardrobe mistress Sean (Stanley Tucci, whose talents are wasted here) tries to provide some solace, but it looks like all is lost. Until, that is, the 11th hour, when just to prove she’s got brains to go with that body, Ali comes up with a scheme to save the Burlesque and get revenge on Marcus. You can practically hear the poor guy letting out a Homer Simpson-style, “D’oh!”

‘I Love You Phillip Morris’

By far one of the darkest gay romantic comedies to ever hit the silver screen, the long-delayed “I Love You Phillip Morris,” according to the film’s opening, “really happened.” In the film’s first few minutes, we watch as Steve (Jim Carrey), a devout Christian police officer with a wife, Debbie (Leslie Mann), and daughter, undergoes a remarkable personal and sexual transformation after surviving a serious car accident.

Coming out of the near-death experience forces him to come out of the closet and begin life anew. He does so with Jimmy (Rodrigo Santoro). At the same time Steve embraces his homosexuality, he also unleashes an unpleasant side of his personality, pushing himself up through the corporate ranks via a series of lies and scams. Busted for his illegal behavior, Steve goes to jail where he meets the mild-mannered Phillip (Ewan McGregor).

The most unlikely, tender and touching of romances unfolds between Steve and Phillip. They are each other’s physical and emotional comfort. Following the end of his incarceration, Steve presents himself as Phillip’s lawyer and, in spite of having no formal law school education or a degree, he assists in Phillip’s release.

From there, the couple begins to build a life together on the outside. But, unknown to Phillip, it’s not long before Steve is back to his scamming ways. Once again, the law comes knocking, and so it goes, with each of Steve’s successive jailbreaks and hair-brained schemes.

Throughout it all, we never doubt for a moment that Phillip is the love of Steve’s life. In the ultimate display of his love, Steve even fakes having AIDS to be reunited with Phillip.

It’s a non-traditional love story to be sure, but “I Love You Phillip Morris” is a welcome, if wearying, addition to world of queer cinema. All the credit goes to Carrey and McGregor, who give the most offbeat performances of their careers.

‘Tangled’

No wonder the folks at Disney are talking about taking time off from their big-screen animated versions of fairy tales. Their latest, a 3D musical retelling of Grimm’s “Rapunzel,” titled “Tangled,” has its share of split ends.

Abducted as a child by witchy Mother Gothel (Broadway diva Donna Murphy) for the youth-restoring powers attributed to her massively long blonde hair, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is raised in seclusion in a tower in the woods. Instead of the prince who finds and woos her in the Grimm version, Disney’s Rapunzel becomes the object of the affection of lam Flynn (Zachary Levi), a roguish thief on the lam.

Of course, first they have to go through their awkward and comedic introductory stage, which involves lots of animated physical comedy, including, among other things, repeated use of a frying pan as a weapon of self-defense and coercion.

Rapunzel is anxious to find the source of the light show which coincides with her birthday (hint: it’s the way her parents have been trying her whole life to track her down). In the meantime, Flynn wants to be reunited with his stolen booty, which he’s unable to pry from in Rapunzel’s delicate hands. But, wouldn’t you know it, the kids are kind of falling for each other.

The songs, with music by Alan Menken (“The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin”) and lyrics by Glenn Slater, are sweet. But they don’t hold a candle (sorry about that, Lumiere) to the ones Menken wrote with the late Howard Ashman. “Tangled” isn’t the worst in recent Disney animated history, but it’s a few hairs short of being among the best.