1998, R, 92 min. Directed by Mark Christopher. Starring Mike Myers, Ryan Phillipe, Salma Hayek, Sela Ward, Breckin Meyer, Sherry Strinfield, Neve Campbell, Ellen Albertini Dow, Heather Matarazzo.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 28, 1998
Disco may suck but it's certainly not dead, as evidenced by the recent spate of Seventies revival films. From Boogie Nights to The Last Days of Disco, everything old is new again, much to the chagrin of those of us who found the decade lacking the first time around. With this loose bio-pic of Manhattan's famed Studio 54, debuting director Christopher seeks to rub our Nineties noses in that famed culture of hedonistic excess -- ostensibly as a warning, one assumes -- but the morality tale onscreen is such a vapid take on the real thing that it's akin to watching a 90-minute slide show chronicling someone else's vacation: If you were there, you'll never forget; if you weren't, you'll never know. Actually, as far as 54 goes, the mantra is: “If you remember it, you probably weren't there.” That's a fair assumption judging from all the drugs and sex and more drugs on the screen, and Christopher doesn't flinch from the epicurean overload that made the club the party nexus during its troubled eight-year span. Phillipe plays Jersey boy Shane O'Shea, who longs for the exciting nightlife of the Big Bad Apple from his blue-collar home across the river. Tall, bland, and handsome, he gains entrance into the club after being spotted by owner Steve Rubell (Myers) while queuing outside the velvet rope one night. Once inside, he's hooked on the club's druggy, anything-goes atmosphere and returns the next night only to be hired as a busboy by the leering Rubell. From here on in, Shane ascends the narcissistic ladder, slowly working his way into Rubell's confidence and gaining a toehold on the slippery slope of 15-minute celebrity. He's woefully uncultured, though, and virtually lost amidst the staggering cognoscenti; when someone hails the arrival of Truman Capote one night, Shane's reaction is a puzzled, “Truman who?” He's a naïf in sheep's clothing and the club slowly begins to eat him alive, body and soul, despite some (very) occasional moral support from new friends Hayek and Meyer as married 54 employees, Anita and Greg (she's an aspiring disco diva, he's an aspiring drug dealer). It's Myers, though, who resonates the most (the rest of the cast could have been played by anyone, really, and perhaps should have been). From the moment he hits the screen, Myers nails Rubell's creepy manic giggle and desperate need for affection and never once lets up. It's a career-defining role, and Myers clearly has far more up his sleeve than the archly comedic talents he's displayed so far. Still, 54 as a whole is grossly lacking in character -- there's little of the pent-up madness the club engendered, and Christopher too often descends into vague condescension. We already know the horrors that killed off this wildly creative crowd (although the film ends before AIDS begins), but Christopher keeps coming back to beat us over the head with the “bad, wrong, bad, wrong” hammer again and again. It's a noble effort, but aficionados and the mildly interested are recommended to seek out VH-1's excellent Studio 54 documentary in lieu of this shallow morality play.