Barely Staying Alive

Rubell's belief that he can openly flout the law is an honest mistake. He thinks that being beautiful puts you above the rules, which is usually correct, and that his position makes him such a beautiful person, which was incorrect. Christopher's best directorial touch comes near the end, during Rubell's homecoming party at Studio 54 after his prison term. When we see him, dressed in evening clothes, his face is in shadow. He has become the Phantom of the Disco, a powerful yet unrequited aspirant to his ideal of beauty now relegated to lurking in the dark.

What a mistake to shuffle this juicy performance to the background of the film, but this is sadly typical of 54. In the end narration, Shane gripes that the new corporate owners who took over Studio 54 after Rubell and Schrager's crash made the club "safe and boring." But that's exactly what Christopher has done to 54.

So what? The received wisdom on this film is likely to be that it fumbled a great subject. Well, no doubt it could have been far better, but is it really a such a great subject? Rubell seems to have been an amusing fellow, but he was also an ingratiating, nerdy wannabe who craved popularity; he drew his power by excluding from his club anyone who wasn't beautiful and/or rich and famous. This story is retold every day, in every high school. The fact that at Studio 54 it was done by adults doesn't, in itself, make the story an epic.

Directed and written by Mark Christopher.
Starring Ryan Phillippe, Mike Myers, Salma Hayek, and Neve Campbell.

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