Ali Rose (Christina Aguilera) is an Iowa barmaid with a voice big enough to blast the blackbirds out of the barn rafters. And she’s not content to spend her life singing to the jukebox. Packing all her belongings in a single suitcase, she takes her last wages from the bar till and buys a one-way ticket to Los Angeles—the city where all dreams are supposed to come true.
But finding a job as a backup singer or chorus line girl is harder than she anticipated. Walking along the dark city streets after a long day of job seeking, she is lured into a burlesque lounge after seeing one of the skimpily dressed dancers outside the stage door. All it takes is one titillating dance number to convince her that this is where she wants to be. However, Tess (Cher), the lounge’s struggling owner isn’t hiring. She and her ex-husband (Peter Gallagher) are facing financial troubles (despite the nearly full tables every night) and risk losing the business unless they can come up with a substantial sum of money in the next few weeks.
Not to be deterred, Ali puts some of her Iowa ingenuity to work when she sees one of the barmaids slacking on the job. Picking up a tray, she starts serving drinks for the bartender (Cam Gigandet). Her down to business attitude earns her a job and eventually a shot at auditioning on stage. With some encouragement from the stage manager (Stanley Tucci), Tess half-heartedly agrees to give Ali a spot in the chorus line. The move doesn’t sit well with some of the other dancers, especially Nikki (Kristen Bell). But tensions reach a high note when Nikki arrives for work late and drunk one too many times. Fed up with the antics of her primary performer, Tess sends Nikki home and puts Ali front and center on stage.
Despite achieving her dream of being in the spotlight, the young performer encounters some challengers she didn’t anticipate including unsolicited attention from a high rolling real estate agent (Eric Dane) eager to scoop up Tess’s failing business.
While the dancers’ tiny costumes (with strategically placed lace, pasties, beads and boa feathers) more than adequately imply that this is not family entertainment, the windowless lounge "with the best view in town" still appears to be a sanitized version of this type of establishment. Despite the provocative dance moves, there are no vulgar catcalls or groping patrons to taint the musical numbers. (Unfortunately audiences will still be exposed to frequent profanities and lewd or suggestive sexual antics and dialogue.)
Though making headlines in a burlesque may not have been what this Iowa native initially envisioned for herself, this romanticized version of a strip club and Ali’s meteoritic climb to fame looks just a little too enticing and attainable to be anything but Hollywood.