Rating -

Cast & Crew info:
Ryan Phillipe

Shane O'Shea
Salma Hayek
Neve Campbell
Julie Black
Mike Meyers
Steve Rubell
Sela Ward
Billie Auster
Brecklin Meyer
Greg Randazzo
Sherry Stringfield
Ellen Albertini Dow
Disco Dottie

Produced by
Don Carmody, Bobby Cohen, Ira Deutchman, Richard N. Gladstein, Dolly Hall, Jonathan King, Bob Weinstein and Harvey Weinstein; Directed and screenwritten by Mark Christopher

Drama (US); Rated R for mild language and sex situations; Running Time - 119 Minutes

Official Site

Domestic Release Date
August 28, 1998

Review Uploaded

Written by DAVID KEYES

Sets create the illusion of reality in the movies. Encyclopedias and filmmakers declare them the backbone of a motion picture's skeletal system, and the evolution of cinema as we know it. Characters and plot are what add to the movie, but these, supposedly, don't evolve until you, at first, have the sets in place. Without them, what would movies be?

Watching "54", I quickly referred to this observation. The setting is the disco era, which often is great inspiration for film makers to set their movies in. Even though its music and story seem familiar, the movie does not look or feel like any disco picture I've ever seen. It's all in the setting, and when such settings are glorified with creative camera swoops and moving music, we often get a movie so close to reality that it's almost freaky.

"54" is a movie with great intentions, and instead of failing to capture the life and passion in them, it goes beyond the possibilities, creating an exact and fluent mental picture of the legendary studio 54, which, in the late 1970s, was THE hangout for celebrities, disco freaks, rising stars and young talents. When I mean talents, I don't mean that of a voice, a sense of humor, or anything similar. Steve Rubell, the owner of studio 54, spent every night outside his disco hand-picking who got to go into it, and those he picked had to be beautiful physically. Those who were not were simply turned away by security.

Here, Rubell is played by none other than the star of "Wayne's World", Mike Meyers, and I'm not being sarcastic when I say that his performance is Oscar-worthy. He perfectly captures Rubell's life essence in this performance, who, according to all of today's sources, made millions of dollars each night off of his famous disco and didn't bother to let the IRS in on its initial tax profit. Meyers goes to the screen surprisingly great in such a performance, which, I imagine, is something that he has never attempted before. His roles are often in comedies, and transforming to drama here is just as great a transformation as Jim Carrey's in "The Truman Show". Both are actors who didn't really make big impact with me in comedy. Like Tom Hanks, they have found their calling, exploding to the screen like experimental atomic bombs in the Persian Gulf.

But it's not just Meyers with the impact. Two familiar faces named Ryan Phillipe and Salma Hayek are beginning to provide us glimpses of their possible breakthrough careers in the near future. They both go on the screen absolutely brilliantly, and never for one second do they let us down.

The other big star, Neve Campbell, happens to be the film's only excess baggage. Being billed as one of the lead roles, her whole air time totals out to about 15 minutes, and in those minutes, there's really no point for her character, other than to occasionally distract Phillipe's character from his job at studio 54.

But never mind Campbell--the movie is just great. It begins like any traditional disco movie--a kid sees and hears good word from a big popular place in the city, goes to check it out, and quickly becomes submerged in it. Phillipe starts out in New Jersey, and takes a voyage to New York to see the legendary studio 54. When he's pulled in by the owner, Rubell, he quickly becomes fond of the place, not only because his favorite celebrities hang out there, but because the place has atmosphere and a great sense of freedom. He narrates all of these feelings to us as they unfold, and the narrations quickly become our cliff notes for the moments of the film which seem to be somewhat confusing. Studio 54 was at the brink of death in the 1980s, but since Rubell was long gone by then, the movie only explores the wild years, when the balconies were the spots for couples to engage in intercourse and the basement was the place where celebrities hung out. Rubell himself was severely drugged out most of the time, and considered the attendants at his disco the members his one and only 'family.' Then, when the winter holidays of 1979 arrived, it seemed like everything began to crumble. By this point, Rubell had already experienced international fame for his disco, and Phillipe's character (ok, his name is Shane) was almost at the peek of a modeling career. But here, he and Rubell began to deteriorate. Shane's family refused to see him Christmas day when they found out he was addicted to drugs, and Rubell seemed to be in hot water when the IRS began investigating his profits off of the studio. At the moment of 1980s new year unveiling, all of these problems clenched together, and Studio 54 soon found itself under new management. Rubell was thrown into jail for frauding the Internal Revenue, and, according to Shane's observing narration, "the studio's freedom completely disappeared."

The movie is a complete and accurate portrait of these intense and wild years at Studio 54. Though it strangely follows an exact pattern and formula as Paul Thomas Anderson's "Boogie Nights", the movie is never dull or predictable. It is always observant and watchable. I may not necessarily consider myself a fan of disco, but it seems a little odd when such an era produces such great movies like "Boogie Nights", "Thank God It's Friday!" and this picture. If eras like the disco one can spark the imagination of movie makers twenty years later, than disco has never really died.

1998, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org. Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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