54 (1998)

reviewed by
Ryan Ellis

a video review 
by Ryan Ellis 
March 13, 2004 

Okay, picture this. I'm sitting in my recliner on Saturday night with a tin of mandarins and a bag of crackers. I'm too anti-social to go out to bars on the weekend, so watching a movie on television sounded like a pretty good idea to this movie nerd. And since '54' was Showcase's feature attraction, I thought the least I'd feel is envy for those who are doing what I'm not---namely, drinking, drugging, having casual sex with beautiful people, dancing like fools, and staying up all night. After all, Studio 54 was the #1 night club in New York in the '70s and you would assume a movie made in the late '90s would be dying to capture the glory of that hedonistic era. Shouldn't this movie have tried to harness the headlong euphoria of being stoned and drunk and free? Why bother to make a movie about a legendary disco club that people would literally beg to enter if not to show just how fun it is to be so wicked once you get in there? Based on this movie, I'm not missing anything. Studio 54 doesn't seem like much fun. My Saturday nights may not be as wild as every night in '54', but I'll take the fruit and the soda crackers over this idiocy.

I know very little of the history of the real night club. Apparently, anybody who wanted to be somebody tirelessly fought to get inside. Club owner Steve Rubell (played with heavy-lidded, stoner bliss by Mike Myers) handpicked those who would get in, which is good for young Shane O'Shea (played with chisel-chested dullness by Ryan Phillippe). Shane looks the part of a Studio 54 bartender, although he has to start out as a bus boy. In a thudding plot point, Shane leaves his uncool friends behind and enters this new world, which DOES look glitzy and exciting at first. He tries to keep high ideals, which only last as long as no one asks him to compromise them. Once he stabs a friend in the back to get a glamorous job behind the bar, Shane has officially turned into a major league asshole. He becomes a carbon copy of all nincompoops who are only too happy to put as much white stuff up their noses while ejecting as much white stuff out of their dicks as possible. Gee, I wonder if this particular curly-haired walking cliche will learn Some Valuable Lessons in the 3rd act? I wonder if he'll finally wise up and travel the high road, taking a stand once Things Have Gone Too Far?

Salma Hayek and Breckin Meyer play Anita & Greg, Shane's co-workers at the club. A timid love triangle develops (a story point that never really goes anywhere) and if Anita is willing to prostitute herself and Greg isn't, well...that theme never goes anywhere either. I've never been a fan of Hayek, even if she's got a body that could cause a catastrophic pile-up on the Autobahn. She's not half as sexy in this movie as Sela Ward, though, who plays a record producer with all sorts of show biz contacts that Anita and Shane would be most happy to abuse. Neve Campbell is also slumming, playing a soap opera actress who---like Shane---is from New Jersey and wants bigger things. This entire movie is a random excuse for film cliches. Ellen Albertini Dow plays an octogenarian disco queen who tries to keep up with kids 60 years younger. If you don't think she's going to end up flat on her face before the end of the movie, well, you've never seen a movie before. And if you've never seen a movie before, don't make this your first.

Heck, watch 'Saturday Night Fever' again instead (an obvious inspiration). At least there's something deeper going on there and the music & energy is 95% stronger than any frame of '54'. Perhaps the blame for the inanity should be placed in the lap of writer/director Mark Christopher. It's his vision, right? Hold on, the IMDb's information about this flick suggests that Miramax cut the movie against his wishes. Still, Christopher is the one who shot the footage and he brings nothing original to any of the well-worn material. If the actors gave better performances than what made the final cut, somebody along the line should've pointed this out and let the director cut his own damn movie. I doubt that's the case, though. The cast does nothing that isn't dictated by the tired script. Not one of them has any real depth or character of his or her own. Just a bunch of dumbasses who party like it's 1979 and don't seem to be enjoying themselves as much as they should be.

This fizzy turd reminded me of 'Showgirls', where the hedonistic behaviour of the main character is redeemed in the end because...because...that's what the script said would happen, I guess. Bah. I hated Nomi in 'Showgirls' and I wasn't fond of Shane or his chums in '54'. I like to look for subtext in a movie and the screaming-in-your-face subtext here is: it's Sodom & Gomorrah---or even The Garden Of Eden---and the raucous partying will inevitably trigger a fall from grace. Yet the fall from grace in this movie results in a happy ending. WTF? Even Rubell---who's a heart attack begging to happen right from the start---goes out on something of a high note. As for Shane, he might have been more sympathetic if he weren't played by such a soggy pile of socks as Ryan Phillippe. I didn't care about his fate and Phillippe is not a good enough actor to make it seem like he's truly enjoying himself. I guess Shane is too busy sitting on that starfucking bandwagon to bother enjoying his wealth and fame and orgasms.

Even the scene where we get to see the Studio 54's famed VIP room fails to kick-start the movie. At least a dozen celebs make cameos in that scene (Sheryl Crow, Cindy Crawford, and Heidi Klum to name three foxes), but they don't really belong in this movie. After all, those three babes are stars NOW, not in the late '70s. My yawns were too huge to be stifled anyway. When the climax arrives and everything comes crashing down at once (because real life ALWAYS works out poetically like that...), I just didn't care about any of these morons anymore. It takes 90 minutes until bonafide famous faces finally show up as still photos in the end credits, giving the movie a giddy little charge right at the end. Where was this excitement before? Let's face it, if you want to see a movie about Studio 54, part of you is a starfucker. People like you shouldn't have to wait until the end of the movie to finally feel at home. As for me, I'll stay away from night clubs for yet another weekend.

To contact me with kind words or a kick in the pants, write to flickershows@hotmail.com.

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