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We've all suffered through Afterschool Specials; no doubt created to combat criticism that networks were showing nothing but Charlie's Angels' nipples, the major networks in the '70s gave us kids some of the worst made-for-TV movies ever created. Usually adhering to cliches ranging from the horrifying (parents die in drunk driving crash) to the stupefyingly banal (be nice to your sis), Afterschool Specials came to symbolize "bathos," a place where emotions become dull with overuse, a little like someone who is rubbing your back too hard in one place.
It is with a confusion that borders on fascination, then, that I can tell you this: they had to work hard to make Studio 54 boring enough to be an Afterschool Special, and by God, they managed to do it. Every aspect of this brittle, rambunctiously uninteresting screenplay is as forgettable as third grade boyfriends and fifth grade lunch.
Ryan Phillipe is the kid from Jersey with an attitude and a torso, who manages to get himself into the inner sanctum of Steve Rubell's (Mike Myers) celebrated dance club. Persian royalty flies their sons there once a year to dance, and Rubell is throwing the best party of the decade—or so they would have you believe. While there, Phillipe graduates from busboy to bartender, tangling with a mentor (Breckin Meyer) and his wife, a self-styled Latin diva delivered with zero panache by Salma Hayek. Neve Campbell also shows up, playing a soap opera star with intentions of greatness and a thing for our young stud. I could go further, but to be honest, nothing really happens. You already know that Studio 54 shuts down after tax evasion charges, but how they get there is an exercise in futility. It's not all bereft of sense; Mike Myers is a dead ringer for Rubell, and plays him with a quite delicate sense of sadness, exuberance, loneliness and epicureanism. Ryan Phillipe isn't bad either—he's got the swagger, and he looks good in a pair of Sergio Valente pants. But the rest of "54" isn't even interesting enough to make fun of— well, no, I take that back. Neve Campbell's role is worthy of derision; her "turnaround" at film's end, dare I say it, is worse than most Afterschool Specials dared to be.
But the worst crime "54" commits is robbing us of the sense of fun, the audaciousness and the absolute gargantuan silliness that us kids in the '70s missed; it's Excess Lite, and it tastes like the '90s, all yammer and no passion. "54" tries to throw a party, and it's loud enough, but nobody's having any fun. My advice? Watch the VH-1 special on Studio 54 instead. It had more flavor, and was $7 cheaper.
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