Mike Myers transforms himself in 54, in virtually every way a
performer can transform himself. Myers plays Steve Rubell, the
nightclub impresario who created the Manhattan disco Studio 54 to be
the center of the party universe in the closing years of a party
decade. Rubell presides over his kingdom in a heavy-lidded barbiturate
stupor, cackling in a humorless monotone as he moves among his
glitterati guests. In his first truly dramatic screen performance,
Myers doesn't abandon his open-mouthed little boy grin entirely; he
simply turns it to the service of a character who's still a little
boy, convinced he can only find friends by throwing the coolest party.
Wearing Izod shirts and sweaters, thinning hair perched pointlessly
on top of his head, Rubell is a proto-Gates portrait of entrepreneurial
geek-dom. If people won't play with him because they like him, he'll
make them play with him because they need him.
Rubell is a fascinating character, performed by Myers with a mix of
savvy, pathos and self-absorption. If writer/director Mark Christopher
had had the common sense to make 54 the story of Steve Rubell, he might
have had a great film on his hands. Instead, Christopher makes his
protagonist a New Jersey kid named Shane O'Shea (Ryan Phillippe) who
comes to Manhattan in late 1979 to break away from his dead-end family.
He first manages to get into the club when Rubell spots him in the
crowd, then lands a job as a busboy, eventually moving up the Studio
54 social ladder to bartender. Along the way he befriends another
busboy named Greg (Clueless's Breckin Meyer) and Greg's wife, aspiring
disco diva Anita (Salma Hayek). He also becomes infatuated with Julie
Black (Neve Campbell), a soap opera ingenue whose Jersey-to-the-big-time
success story inspired him to action.
54's base-line narrative is so trite it almost plays like a
parody, a disco-era goof on Midnight Cowboy or some far less
seminal corruption of the innocent melodrama. Naturally the fame and
flash go immediately to Shane's head, as he poses for modeling shoots
and buys a Camaro with personalized plates; naturally he is lured into
a sordid world of sex and drugs; naturally he begins alienating his
friends and family with his arrogant behavior. Christopher heads down
every obvious path in the interactions between Shane, Greg, Anita and
Julie, apparently oblivious to the fact that every one of those
characters is a piece of cardboard. Perhaps it was his idea of irony:
like Studio 54 itself, his movie invites people in so they can stand
around and be attractive.
The plotting is so relentlessly predictable that the film doesn't even
work well as a sociology lesson. Occasionally it offers peeks at the
side rooms or basement hot spots where the elite met to revel in their
eliteness; every once in a while it focuses on the politics of
succeeding in an environment of glamour for glamour's sake. Shane's
voice-over narration dutifully informs us why Studio 54 was so unique
and so popular, but there's never enough energy for us to believe him.
54 spends 91 minutes pointing off-handedly to this or that
detail like a bored tour guide. For a film that includes money-laundering,
ripping off the mob, sex, drugs, celebrities and plenty of boogie
oogie oogie-ing, it almost never gets the pulse jumping.
The notable exceptions are the scenes involving Myers as Rubell.
Sure, the character isn't perfectly realized; in fact, it probably
seems better simply because it's surrounded by so much uninspired junk.
There is something undeniably intriguing about Rubell, however, as he
rules his gaudy playground with only occasional flashes of glee. It's
also amusing watching him announce on a talk show that "the road of
excess leads to the palace of wisdom" after we've watched him lying
in a pile of money, drooling vomit. T
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