“A guy named Steve Rubell had a dream: To throw the best damned party the world had ever seen and to make it last forever. He built a world where fantasy was put up as reality and where an 80-year-old disco queen could dance till dawn. Where models mingled with mechanics, plumbers danced with princes. It was a place where all labels were left behind. A place where there were no rules.”
— Shane O’Shea (Ryan Phillippe) in 54 (1998)
So, did you actually read that quote at the beginning of the review? I don’t blame if you didn’t because not only is it ludicrous overwritten but it just goes on and on. It’s one of those quotes that you read in a script and you think to yourself, “They better get absolutely the best actor in the world to deliver these lines,” and then you realize Ryan Phillippe has been cast in the role.
Except, of course, I doubt that any of those lines were found in the original script for 54. 54 is one of those films where, as you watch it, you can literally imagine the chaos that must have been going on during the editing process. Subplots are raised and then dropped and the mysteriously pop up again. Characters change both their personalities and their motives in between scenes. Huge dramatic moment happen almost at random but don’t seem to actually have anything to do with anything else happening in the film.
In short, 54 is a mess but it’s a mess that’s held together by incredibly clunky narration. Shane O’Shea, who spent the waning days of the 1970s working at Studio 54, narrates the film. And, despite the fact that Shane is presented as being kinda dumb (think of Saturday Night Fever‘s Tony Manero, without the sexy dance moves), his narration is extremely verbose and reflective. It’s almost as if the narration was written at the last-minute by someone desperately trying to save a collapsing film.
I watched 54 on cable because I saw that it was about the 70s and I figured it would feature a lot of outrageous costumes, danceable music, and cocaine-fueled melodrama. And it turns out that I was right about the cocaine-fueled melodrama but still, 54 is no Boogie Nights. It’s not even Bright Lights, Big City.
54 does have an interesting cast, which makes it all the more unfortunate that nobody really gets to do anything interesting. Poor Ryan Phillippe looks totally lost and, in the film’s worst scene, he actually has to stand in the middle of a dance floor and, after the death of elderly Disco Dottie (that’s the character’s name!), yell at all the decadent club goers. Breckin Meyer is cute as Phillippe’s co-worker and Salma Hayek gets to sing. Neve Campbell plays a soap opera actress who Phillippe has a crush on and…oh, who cares? Seriously, writing about this film is almost as annoying as watching it.
Mike Myers — yes, that Mike Myers — plays the owner of the club, Steve Rubell. The role means that Myers gets to snort cocaine, hit on Breckin Meyer, and vomit on the silk sheets of his bed. I think that Myers gives a good performance but I’m not really sure. It could have just been the shock of seeing Mike Myers snorting cocaine, hitting on Breckin Meyer, and vomiting on the silk sheets of his bed.
If you want to enjoy some 70s decadence, avoid 54 and rewatch either Boogie Nights or American Hustle.