on August 28, 1998 by Wade Major
Disco addicts in search of a nostalgia fix would do better to re-watch "Saturday Night Fever" than try to endure "54," a surprisingly dull and listless look at the famous New York disco known as Studio 54.
Rather than focus on the real-life drama of the club and its late creator, Steve Rubell, debut writer/director Mark Christopher has instead opted to let Studio 54 and Rubell serve as simply a backdrop for the most mundane of fictions, yet another "inside" look at working-class youths dreaming of success.
Bartender Shane (Ryan Philippe), coat-check girl Anita (Salma Hayek) and her husband, busboy Greg (Breckin Meyer), think they've hit the big time just by working at the club. Given the chance to rub elbows with the rich and famous, they reason, it's only a matter of time before their wildest dreams become a reality. In Anita's case, the dream is to cut an album. Shane, meanwhile, just wants to get lucky with TV soap star Julie Black (Neve Campbell), while Greg wants, well, to be bartender.
At scarcely 92 minutes from logo to closing credits, "54" is barebones storytelling, almost totally devoid of compelling conflict on any level. This isn't to suggest that the characters don't have their struggles, but simply that neither they nor their struggles are even the least bit interesting. Even Mike Myers' Rubell, the only prominently featured factual character, is given the cartoon treatment, presented as a kind of nasty side-show freak who pops up sporadically to abuse drugs and mess with people's lives. Only Neve Campbell seems able to bring any kind of resonance to the screen, a spark of sincerity that immediately dissipates as soon as the focus shifts to another character.
The intended breakaway star of the piece, of course, is Philippe, who plays Shane as a kind of regressive gene-splice of "Saturday Night Fever's" Tony Montero and "Boogie Nights'" Dirk Diggler. But aside from just generally posing convincingly for the camera, the role gives Philippe little chance to showcase whatever acting skills he may have.
The most frustrating aspect of "54," however, has less to do with the story or the characters than the manner in which the club itself is portrayed. Beyond a handful of glimpses into the hedonistic eccentricities and excesses for which Studio 54 was legendary, the club never seems to be anything more than average. By comparison, the neighborhood disco in "Saturday Night Fever" seems like Shangri-La.
While the hit-laden soundtrack promises to at least partially redeem the tedium for some viewers, the fractured manner in which the tunes are presented, along with the near total absence of real dancing, is yet another reminder of the film's misguided focus. Starring Ryan Philippe, Salma Hayek, Neve Campbell, Mike Myers and Breckin Meyer. Directed and written by Mark Christopher. Produced by Richard N. Gladstein, Dolly Hall and Ira Deutchman. A Miramax Films release. Drama. Rated R for sexuality, drug use and language. Running time: 92 min
Tags: tarring Ryan Philippe, Salma Hayek, Neve Campbell, Mike Myers, Breckin Meyer, Directed, written by Mark Christopher, Produced by Richard N. Gladstein, Dolly Hall, Ira Deutchman, Miramax, Drama

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