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The Cranky Critic® reviews 54

54

Starring Ryan Phillippe, Salma Hayek, Sela Ward, Breckin Meyer, Sherry Stringfield with Neve Campbell and Mike Myers
Written and Directed by Mark Christopher
Website: www.miramax.com

IN SHORTWhere's Donna Summer when you really need her?

Cranky really did want to work the fave catchphrase of all us 70s punkers, "Disco Sucks," into at least one of his reviews of this year's based on or inspired by Studio 54 movies. I didn't manage it with The Last Days Of Disco and -- here's reality rearing it's ugly head -- the fact of the matter is that Cranky actually was a Quiana shirt-wearing, John Travolta throw your arm out of its socket denizen of the disco depths, from time to time in the late 70s. Blame the INS for not letting the Sex Pistols in for New Years back in '76, this boy had to party.

Let's be fair about disco. To some, the music may have sucked, but it was great for dancing, whether the bop was horizontal or vertical, and that aspect of its use was very enjoyable. Cranky wishes he could say the same for 54, a remarkably lifeless story of a fictional Jersey dimwit (Ryan Phillippe), who tends bar at the center of the nightclub universe, his friend the coat check girl (Salma Hayek) who wants to be a singer and her drug dealing busboy husband (Breckin Meyer). Dancing around the outskirts are Neve Campbell as a Jersey girl made good as soap opera actress, and Mike Myers delivering a fine dramatic performance as Steve Rubell the real life club's owner. A portrayal of Rubell's partner, Ian Schrager is noticeably absent.

So the answer to your question, yes, Myers can act. Problem is, the movie isn't so much about Studio as it is about the lower denizens of the club. The whole fun of Studio was getting through the doors and dancing next to Bianca Jagger or Lauren Hutton or staring down Andy Warhol (you'd think you did. Andy just got bored and moved on). The whole point of Rubell's party was that once you were inside, you were no longer a punk from nowhereland. You were in the "in" crowd. You were free to do anything to have a blast. 54 may show sex and drugs, but it doesn't for an instant deliver any approximation of the fun.

In the supporting cast, Sela Ward passes through as a music biz type who brings her bartender boy toy up to Park Avenue to hang with eurotrash and introduces the would be singer to the right people, in exchange for drugs. Cameos by Lauren Hutton and Michael York are probably meant to add glamour, but I'd venture to guess that no one in the 90s remembers these folk.

54's emphasis on an outside looking in story defeats the implication of the title and the promises of the movie's advertising. Written and directed by obvious first timer Mark Christopher, it is unfocussed of story and uninteresting, almost all close ups, on screen. There's no sense of the overwhelming party; the music isn't loud enough -- heck, the music isn't even the killer dance material you would have heard in the joint. The producers haven't cleared a single Donna Summer tune, but they have gone all out with a disco rendition of an old Gordon Lightfoot song.

Oy.

If the story is supposed to be about a kid who rises to celebrity, as it were, and his observations of the Studio lifestyle, it just isn't interesting enough to hold your attention. If it's supposed to be about Rubell and his rise and fall, there's too much Jersey in it. The movie is vaguely entertaining, but doesn't come close to getting across the scene that was in the Studio.

The fact of the matter is that the advance buzz on 54 was so negative, I was prepared for a lot worse. It didn't suck, but Ryan Phillipe's character has about as much pizzazz as a processed American cheese slice. The rest of the cast have very little to work with. If Myers weren't able to inject some humor into the proceedings (remember, Cranky's a New Yorker and he got all the jokes. Your results may differ) the flick would be a total bore. As is, it's a definite wait for video.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to 54, he would have paid . . .

$2.00

Rent it to see Mike Myers who, try as he may, just can't make an uninteresting story interesting.

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