Monday, March 31, 2014

One of the worst sequels ever

I had "Staying Alive" (1983)--as if there could be another movie with the title "Staying Alive"--in my Netflix queue for a while because--well, I don't know why. It wasn't like I had never seen any of the movie before. I'm pretty sure I saw most of it years ago. I didn't like it then. I loved "Saturday Night Fever," but didn't care for the sequel. Maybe I just wanted to have easy access to Frank Stallone's 'Far From Over" without having to sit through an add on Vevo/YouTube.

It expires tomorrow, though, so last week I made time even in the midst of my busy schedule of helping orphans and cute animals. Yes, I sat down and watched the movie!

Sure enough, once you get past the wonderful cheese of the opening credits and the aforementioned Frank Stallone tune, it's all downhill for this sequel, directed and co-written by Sylvester Stallone. All told, Frank at least has an iconic "inspirational" 80s anthem and a few musical numbers. As far as Stallones go, he comes out best here.

Stayin' Alive isn't just ill conceived, poorly executed, and hopelessly dated; it's so unlikable that it threatens the reputation of the original. As I watch it and think that it's a bunch of lame music videos and a time capsule of the 80s--but not in a good way--I wonder, "Wait, was Saturday Night Fever like this?" I prefer to think not, that SNF epitomized certain aspects of the Super 70s in a good way, that its "music videos" were entertaining but supported the story rather than supplanting it, that it had compelling characters. That's what I choose to think. I'm too afraid to actually dig out the DVD and watch it again, though.

One of the big problems with this sequel is...not enough Frank Stallone. OK, that's enough Stallone references. It's time to discuss the Travoltas. John's Tony Manero character spends much of the movie as a complete d-bag, stringing along likable "nice girl" type Cynthia Rhodes while making time with vixen Finola Hughes. Manero has moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan, struggling as an aspiring pro dancer while tending bar and teaching (no, not astrophysics; dance). We're supposed to sympathize with his struggle, but he's not very likable, mostly due to his continued a-holish behavior to Jackie, the dancer/singer played by Rhodes.

At one point, hitting bottom, Tony walks to the old 'hood (I guess in 1983 NYC, he thinks it's safer then riding the subway) and chats up Mama Manero. He apologizes for being such a selfish prick, and Mama lets him off the hook by saying his selfish attitude is what got him out of Brooklyn in the first place. This INSPIRES him, and he's energized to go back to Manhattan, dance his booty off, tell Finola Hughes to kiss off while starring with her in a Broadway production, and live happily ever after. I don't know, this scene is supposed to remind us of Tony's roots and--perhaps more importantly--remind us that we like "SNF" and, hey, this is kind of like "SNF." Yet it just falls flat to me. If anyone needed motivation, I would rather have heard "Far From Over" again.  And if we needed a strong dose of family, instead of Julie Bovasso reprising her role as Tony's mom, maybe we should have seen Ellen (Hey, I'm his sister, not his mother!) Travolta make an appearance.

I will say that "Stayin' Alive" is almost worth watching for the fashions, the ridiculousness of the over-the-top dance numbers, the slick and silly eighties-ishness of it all. The production Tony ends up starring in, "Satan's Alley," has to be seen to be believed. I can only hope that somehow Sly personally supervised the creation of everything associated with it, right down to the choreography and the costumes. Against all odds, "SNF"makes disco on the edge of being cool, but "Staying Alive" makes dance itself, maybe even the concept of physical movement, repellent.

You don't really get to see vintage Travolta strutting to vintage Bee Gees until the end of the movie. Until then you get an hour and a half of bad music, annoying characters, and Frank Stallone. My advice: Fire it up before it expires, listen to 'Far  From Over," and let it poof out of your queue at midnight tonight.

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