Judge Brett Cullum is going to the place where the moon does cocaine and Truman Capote fights Andy Warhol.
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54 was supposed to be a huge summer hit for Miramax pictures back in 1998. They had developed the project for three years, and it had a stellar '90s cast including the first dramatic turn of Mike Myers (Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery). He played Studio 54 impresario Steve Rubell and created Oscar buzz for his amazingly dead-on take recreating the nightclub genius for the silver screen. But the movie got watered down by test screenings, and the studio demanded major script changes and reshoots late in the game. It became a soggy mess that did poorly at the box office. The end result is a rather bland and vague biography of a bus boy who dreams of something more. The something more never seems to show up, and the film just becomes a catchy music video with plenty of disco hits and strobe lights to accent a pretty solid supporting bit by Myers. The new Blu-ray release adds pretty much what we saw on DVD, and leaves us wanting as much as the bus boy. 54 doesn't quite seem worth the cover charge.
Facts of the Case
Ryan Phillippe (Cruel Intentions) plays Jersey boy Shane who is plucked from a line of people to come into Studio 54. His character is loosely based on real life Studio 54 employee Tieg Thomas, who worked at the legendary nightclub from 1977 to 1982. Once in, Shane finagles a job as a bus boy, and meets a coat check girl (Salma Hayek, Frida) who dreams of being a disco diva, accompanied by her husband (Breckin Meyer, Road Trip), who dreams of being married to a disco diva. They all work for Steve Rubell (Myers) who runs the place as only an eccentric coked-out millionaire would. As the club peaks and falls, so do the characters who find out what cost hanging around the beautiful and famous brings. Also in the mix for good measure is a beautiful soap star played by Neve Campbell (Scream) who pops up to remind everyone what Studio 54 is all about. She reveals that she's 100% fake once she hits the door so that she can hopefully meet someone to get her out of hustling her goods to Donna Summer tunes.
The film was written and directed by Mark Christopher who researched the hell out of his topic. He certainly seemed primed to deliver something big and visceral. The director had far different intentions than what hit the screens. His original script was edgy and dark, but the studio got nervous as test screenings came back with negative remarks. Reshoots were demanded, and Ryan Phillippe's character was toned down quite a bit in regards to both his drug use and sexual promiscuity. An entire subplot with him having an affair with Breckin Meyer was tossed out the window. There was a fear that audiences just were not ready for a hero who was bisexual and not guilty about it. Forty-five minutes of footage was scrapped, and most of the cast flew back to the sets in Toronto to rework the film into something more commercial and safe. That is where 54 falters. The club was legendary for being a place where labels and norms were tossed aside, but in this film only Steve Rubell is allowed to be the free spirit that he was in real life. It falls flat because Mike Myers is the most interesting character, and the film is not about him. He's the only reason to watch this cut of the film, and he's just not there enough to save the entire thing. Unfortunately, Phillippe and his costars are left with not much interesting to do other than boogie their way through the motions. There's an intensely silly climactic moment about a disco granny that overdoses that just feels ridiculous and hollow in the final analysis. This is the big dramatic moment?
At least the production is handsome in both sight and sound. They managed to do a great job with the look of the film recreating an iconic place. The original Studio 54 was created from what was once a guilded opera house, and Rubell used the stage fly system to bring sets in and off the dance floor. It was a great looking theatrical concept, and the production stays true to the look of the legendary club. Also of note is a very authentic soundtrack with plenty of great disco tunes to keep the piece thumping. Blondie, Diana Ross, Chic, and Sylvester all pop up during dance floor sequences to add to the authenticity. It's like Saturday Night Fever without any good dancing, but at least it looks and sounds like the late '70s and early '80s when disco ruled the world.
Lionsgate's 54 (Blu-ray) mirrors its previous DVD release in every sense, adding nothing new other than an improved look. The 1.85:1/1080p high definition transfer exhibits a great use of black levels and color saturation. This comes in handy since the film is so dark often using strobe effects in the lighting. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio is a rich surround that does a nice job with the thumping constant music and club effects. The sole extra is a dated music video for the disco version of Gordon Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind" recorded for the film. Interestingly enough the disc edition of the feature adds eleven minutes of cut footage to the theatrical version, but this is similar to the DVD that was released back in 1999.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
So what's missing from the Blu-ray? In 2008 director Mark Christopher showed up to Outfest with a reconstructed cut of the film that added in the forty-five minutes he was forced to scrap by the studio. So somewhere out there is the actual director's cut of this film, and it's a shame they decided to pass up a chance to include that in here. Also, absolutely no new extras means we don't get to hear from the cast or director about what it was like to film this piece. This is just simply a port from DVD to Blu-ray with some extra oomph in the visuals and soundtrack. Anything that might have made a revisit to 54 exciting is bypassed entirely.
Fans of Mike Myers will find the film revelatory with the actor as Steve Rubell, who ran Studio 54. It is also a great film if you are curious as to what the club looked like. Unfortunately, though, beyond that 54 only offers thin characters doing bland things thanks to a studio that was too scared to show much else. The real, legendary disco was a place full of shocking edge and unpredictability, something the movie lacks entirely. This Blu-ray is really just a port of the original DVD version with a little bit better transfer to keep pace with today's technology. The studio missed a great chance to show us something new in favor of keeping with the safe and bland choice that got the movie in trouble at the box office in the first place.
Guilty of just not being quite as fabulous as it could be, 54 will
have to settle for the fact that the truth is much stranger than its fiction.
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