Thursday, March 31, 2011

Disco Beat: "54" (1998)

A young man dreams of leaving his dead end town and moving to the big city, where he can make it big. I wish I could do the same, and I would if I looked like Ryan Phillippe.

Shane (Ryan Phillippe) lives in New Jersey and longs for the New York City skyline just a short distance away. He and his friends go to the same bars and try to lay the same girls, but in 1979 his world is collapsing under the leadership-challenged Jimmy Carter and life seems hopeless.

Shane finally gets some gumption and heads to Studio 54, the most exclusive club in New York. Taking off his shirt for owner Steve Rubell (Mike Myers), he gets let in. There, his senses are overwhelmed with drugs, sex, and music, three of the lacking ingredients in his life. Shane gets an interview and begins bussing at the club, meeting struggling singer/coat check girl Anita (Salma Hayek) and her busboy hubby Greg (Breckin Meyer). Greg covets the cherished bartender positions, but he does not have the right look. Shane does.

The main reason Shane sought out Studio 54 is because of his crush on soap opera actress Julie (Neve Campbell), who he glimpses briefly here and there before diving crotch first into all the loose sex and drug abuse. He moves in with Anita and Greg, but things begin to unravel as Rubell comes under the interest of the I.R.S., and Greg realizes he will never be a bartender, but there is plenty of money in drug dealing. 1980 comes in with a bang, and changes everyone.

Ryan Phillippe is very good as Shane in one of his best performances. He has a very young look about him that is completely right for the role. Writer/director Mark Christopher does a nice job with his actors, and the casting is outstanding. Shane is obviously more hunky than Greg, and Meyer does a great job of conveying disappointment about not getting the bartending gig. Salma Hayek is beautiful but not too flighty as Anita, who puts her burgeoning singing career above her marriage and friendships.

Neve Campbell, while okay, is not given a very good role here. Christopher holds off on Shane getting too close to her until it is too late, and by the time an hour (of the film) has gone by, we really do not care if these two get together or not. Mike Myers is outstanding as Rubell, I thought Christopher should have concentrated more on him than Shane. Myers has a great scene where he propositions a straight Greg for sex in order to get the bar tending job, and Myers makes Steve a pathetic and sympathetic character in the span of just a few minutes.

If you thought this year's "Crash" has a lot of coincidences, get a load of "54." Not to give too much away, Julie and Shane meeting in a New Jersey restaurant isn't the worst, that honor goes to the climax of the film where everything seems to happen on one predestined night.

Christopher does capture the look and feel of 1979 hedonism very well. Some of his characters' choices make little sense, though. Shane knows where Studio 54 is, that soap actress Julie hangs out there, but has no clue who ANY of the other celebrities there are. For someone who frequents gossip columns, he should have been more tuned in to his clientele. Also, for all the sex and drugs going on, none of the characters seem very happy, and Christopher beats us over the head with redemptive moments.

The "54" soundtrack is a lot like the film, and the club. Some familiar filler that is really great while it happens, but becomes instantly forgettable when it ends. I have always liked techno and dance music over anything else, but "54" barely manages a blip on the screen. (* * *) out of five stars.