Bad Movies We Love: 54

We've slaughtered the likes of James Franco, Annette Bening, Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman, and Christian Bale with the "Bad Movies We Love" treatment, and this week's Oscar contender up for tickle torture is Mark Ruffalo -- who had a slight part in a very slight movie called 54. Hooray for Mark! Un-hooray for this movie: It takes place at the famous Studio 54 in 1978, but you'll swear it's about dressing up for a glowstick party in 1998 (inside a future IKEA). So get your Andy Warhol wig, your Ryan Phillippe nipples, and your Neve Campbell cry-kisses out of storage. It's time for the Hustle!

Homecoming King '98 Ryan Phillippe plays a youngster named Shane whose hotness dooms him to a life of naked decadence in New York's premiere club. The outrage. Shane ditches his blue-collar family for dancefloor employment, and he's cocky about it. His accent suggests he may call Travis Bickle or welcome back Mr. Kotter at any moment, which is confusing. Phillippe's going for "serious" here, the cruelest intention of all. Please enjoy his totally Timberlake attempt at a '70s throwback.

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This is the key to 54's status as a Bad Movie We Love. It wants to capture the disco era in earnest, but it only captures 1998 with microscopic clarity. This movie should be called Can't Hardly Rave or She's All Coked or Speed Too: We Have More Speed in the Back. Point is, I miss 1998 specifically, and movies like 54 bring me there more than an average spin of "The Boy is Mine." That's saying a lot.

Ruffly Mark Ruffalo plays Shane's un-supportive pal Ricko, who spies Studio 54 regular Julie Black (Neve "When Will I Be Loved? When?!" Campbell) in a magazine. Then he says the legendary line, "Julie Black? She's from Alpine! My ma does her aunt's hair. Saw her once too hanging out at the Alpine Inn." That's more substantial than anything you had to say today, so settle down. Well done, Mark. The kid version of you is all right.

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Other 1998 superstars: Mr. Breckin Meyer, as Shane's eventual co-worker at Studio 54, Greg Randazzo.

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Greg's lovely wife Anita, an aspiring singer who carries her mixtape everywhere and offers it to strangers like scabies, is the august young Salma Hayek. She wants to be "the next Donna Summer." Remember when Salma did movies like The Faculty and Dogma? Girl, I'm -13 all over again.

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Of course she'll cheat on Breckin with the Timberlakian hero, but that's the boring part of 54. Here's Mike Myers as real-life club owner Steve Rubell, who slurs with enough of a leering gay vibe to attract club regulars like Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Cher, Debbie Harry, a Saudi prince, and other people who are easily imitated in faraway shots. In one scene with angry Phillippe, he sneers, "Don't forget how replaceable you are, Little Lord Fauntleroy!" because that metaphor applies here? What? He also tries to eke sexual favors from his bartenders, and you can imagine they're not keen on schtupping Wayne Campbell's hairdressing uncle.

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Shane tries having sex with a drug-loving Sela Ward lady too, and as you can see, it's a troublesome idea.

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Unemployed-as-of-'96 Sherry Stringfield plays a club bookkeeper, who is disposable. Alex Kingston still laughs at this.

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The story is a traditional tale, a real bildungsroman about a club kid who stumbles into drug culture, reconsiders what is important to him, and returns to sanity after feds shut down the filth fortress and he contracts the clap. For real. Important: Do not see this movie if you want to learn anything about the importance of disco to gay culture, the importance of this cultural hot spot in New York City, or the importance of culture at all. Run, honey. Take off to the suburbs on a Giorgio Moroder beat. This is a movie about bankable hotties feigning relevance. They have the good sense to do this nakedly.

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Five-star flourishes, I say. The visuals are nice, but when the sex happens in this movie, it's surprisingly dull. You'd think a movie called 54 would go for glitter-assed gold, but instead there's just some topless moments. Worse, the movie has not-so-subtle ways of telling us that the excess has gone to Shane's head.

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Mmmhmm. That's all I have to say about this movie's flashy (yet warmly nostalgic) moronics, but let's take another moment to guffaw at angst-afflicted Ryan Phillippe. Did I forget to mention that he says, "You turkeys can stay here and rot for all I care" at one point? It was important character development. Anyway.

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Ladies and gentlemen, Ms. Cate Blanchett in I'm Not There.

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Ladies and gentlemen, Ms. Tilda Swinton in Orlando. And finally:

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Ladies and gentlemen, Ms. Brenda Fricker in My Left Foot. I knew this would come back around to Oscar somehow. I just had to do the heavy lifting. Phillippe, you owe me.



Comments

  • Renzo says:

    Louis, marry me.

  • Calla Dain says:

    "Remember when Salma did movies like 'The Faculty' and 'Dogma?"
    She still does! Did you not catch her in "Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant" as the psychic bearded lady?

  • Jason says:

    There`s a great story about how the Weinsteins fucked over the director of this, repeatedly, & had him cut over an hour of the film, most of it involving character development. Then they told him he could put it back in, then locked him out of the editing room, then released the film. So somewhere, there`s apparently a more focused cut of this movie. All of this was in that book about Miramax & the rise of independent film in the `90s that came out back in `04 or `05. It`s a really fascinating read.

  • Louis Virtel says:

    I'd believe that. Characters come and go in 54 far too quickly, but not in the fancy real-Studio-54 way.

  • Louis Virtel says:

    Ooooh. Sure didn't see that. Her 30 Rock co-star Jane Krakowski was in that too, horrifyingly.

  • sittingpat says:

    There is a re-edited version of this film that has been shown here and there by the director as his "director's cut," using footage, some raw, that's he managed to scrape together to show his original intent for the film. I hear it's quite good.

  • But I was here first! I thought our Rolf-hair musings MEANT something, Louis!

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