Review: Burlesque (12a) ***

IF the scripts for Chicago, Coyote Ugly, Dreamgirls, Glitter and Showgirls were put through a shredder and then the tangle of musical cliches taped back together, you'd probably end up with Burlesque.

Clumsy, garish and permanently in danger of falling flat on its powdered face, Steve Antin's rags-to-riches fairytale cannot muster a single sequin of originality.

The glitzy song and dance numbers draw inspiration, choreography and production design from the aforementioned gems of the genre, with a nod to Cabaret for good measure.

Yet for all its many, many faults, which would consign any other film to the ignominy of straight-to-DVD hell, Burlesque might just be the best terrible film of the year.

Whether by a stroke of luck or design, Antin's girl power anthem is the most uproarious fun I've had in a cinema since Toy Story 3.

The cast appear to be having a hoot too. Christina Aguilera can sure belt out the songs wearing nothing more than a string of pearls and a smile, and the script caters shamelessly to female and gay audiences with each whooping contrivance.

Ali (Aguilera) works as a waitress in Iowa but she secretly dreams of stardom.

Strutting out of her trailer park wearing inappropriate white heels, Ali heads for the city where she stumbles upon the Burlesque cabaret bar run by ex-dancer Tess (Cher) and best friend Sean (Stanley Tucci), who looks after the costumes.

Before you can shake a feather boa, Ali is auditioning for a role as one of the dancing girls, where she inevitably riles current leading lady Nikki (Kristen Bell).

But more trouble looms on the horizon: Tess is months in arrears and the club will be sold off unless she can raise a small fortune.

Thank goodness Ali can sing like Christina Aguilera...

Burlesque marks Aguilera's big screen debut as a lead.

She knows how to work a camera and brings a natural sweetness to her feisty heroine, and we know exactly where the character is heading from her first trill.

Cher and Tucci seem to be enjoying private jokes in their scenes, and they share the best lines like when Tess tears a strip off boozy Nikki: "I've held your hair back as you've puked up everything but your memories."

The soundtrack gets painted toes tapping and there's equal opportunity nudity.

A late-night cult classic is born.

On general release