Around the time that HBO (or one of the other premium channels) was playing '54' incessantly, I recall having it on in the background while performing mundane tasks around the apartment. '54' aired with such frequency that it was common to be doing something – homework, dishes, cleaning, cooking – while the movie ran in the other room. Although I never sat down to watch it in its entirety, I'm certain that I collectively watched the whole movie at least twice. Now, ten years later, as I plopped down on the sofa to give the Blu-ray a viewing, I only remembered one thing about it – a scene with Mike Myers looking down on the dance floor as the dead over-dosed body of an elderly woman was carried out of sight. That just goes to show how unmemorable (and bleak) '54' is.
I imagine that if you were part of the disco/clubbing scene in the late '70s, you knew all about the world's most notorious club, Studio 54. As I rewatched this slow film, I came to the conclusion that unless you were there, unless you somehow managed to get "on the list" and experienced one night in Studio 54, this movie speaks nothing to you. I feel like '54' is a nostalgic piece of memorabilia for those who used to party there. Unless you find the surreal lives of celebrities appealing, I don't see how you could deem this movie worthy of owning.
'54' revolves around a fictional character set in the non-fiction history of the club. Our central character is Shane (Ryan Phillippe), a Jersey boy who resembles a typical "long hair" from 'Dazed and Confused.' It's hard to connect with and like Shane right off the bat because he throws his friends (one of whom is played by a young Mark Ruffalo) and family under the proverbial bus just for a chance to breath the coveted air of fame. When the movie opens, Shane sees pictures of his favorite attractive soap star (Neve Campbell) entering the club, so he changes his hair, friends and persona for a shot at playing in her league. When he and his shaggy buddies try getting in, because of Shane's haircut, boyish face, and fit body, he's the only one admitted.
All it takes is one night in the most exclusive club in the world to make Shane a social addict. Adios to Shane's friends and family. He'll do anything to be part of the club's scene. He starts off working for the coked-out club owner (Mike Myers) and quickly progresses up the ladder by becoming a bartender. Before long he's tending to some of the club's most famous regulars, helping them score drugs and even forming purely physical relationships with them. Not only is he having sex with his patrons on the free-loving balcony, but he's making house calls on the side. Taking into account his vanity, his drug use, and the fact that he's embarrassed by everything that he used to represent before getting this job, it's hard to like Shane. But it doesn't stop there.
Once Shane becomes part of the '54' staff, he's taken in by a young newlywed couple of co-workers who invite him to live in their cramped apartment so that he doesn't have to go home to lowly New Jersey every night. Breckin Meyer plays the husband and he's just as flat and dull as usual. Salma Hayek plays the wife and, while her performance is not as bad as Meyer's, she's not quite great either. Some blame is obviously due to the corny script. Only making Shane even less likeable is the fact that he continuously flirts with Hayek's character, obviously hoping for things to get physical. Meyer's character believes that Shane is only after her because she's the one female in city that he hasn't slept with yet. Shane is given one moment at the beginning of the third act that tries to show him in a positive light, but what's meant to help his audience appeal only comes across as bad writing that results in an unmotivated and unfitting action. The damage has already been done.
I and a few local critics always joke about gauging a movie by how fast it takes you to check your watch throughout a screening to see how much time is left. Although it's not as bad as some movies that make you check the time just five minutes in (like 'Jack and Jill'), I started looking at the timer 35 minutes into '54.' The remaining 65 minutes were long and slow.
The story of Studio 54 could very well make for an interesting historical flick – perhaps as a documentary – but this generic narrative doesn't do anything interesting. The movie warrants a "couldn't care less" reaction to absolutely everything that appears on screen. The interesting historical facts are muddled in the fictional story. Mike Myers gives a decent serious performance along side Ryan Phillippe, but neither of them can hide the mediocre directing and screenwriting. Unless you were at Studio 54 in its glory days and want to take a stroll down Memory Lane, I can't recommend this film.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate has placed '54' on a Region A BD-25 in an eco-friendly blue keepcase. The cover art is identical to that of the movie's poster and DVD release. The menu features the same artwork with sections of the screen rotating different clips from the film. It's easy to navigate through, but you first have to skip over Lionsgate and Miramax vanity reels and trailers for 'The Lincoln Lawyer,' the 'Scream' trilogy, 'Velvet Goldmine,' 'Frida' and HD Net.
The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer of '54' is nothing more than a glorified DVD. The image is so soft that it literally carries the quality of a late '70s movies. I've seen transfers of movies from the '60s that look better than this 1998 catalog title.
While the print used is mostly clean, some specks of dirt and debris still make it through. As if the detail- and texture-less image wasn't bad enough, the shadow delineation is so messy that not a single thing that lies in the shadows is ever visible. The black levels are a little too strong, adding to this problem. Fleshtones are pale and lifeless. The wildly colorful night life of Studio 54 is less saturated and vibrant than it should be. Whenever shots from the within the club contain the lighting grid in the frame, the lights are over saturated, but that's more than likely intentional.
Banding appears in the Miramax vanity reel that runs at the opening of the film, but it doesn't show up during the actual movie. Digital noise isn't an issue, but that's most likely caused to the very minor application of DNR; it's used in a small handful of scenes. Edge enhancement, however, isn't applied to '54.' Artifacts and aliasing also aren't a problem.
The only audio option presented is a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. The biggest problem with this lazy lossless track is the mixing.
Let's start with the good: the music. With the majority of the film taking place in a loud club setting, the disco music is perfectly and fittingly mixed. 100 percent of the music is mixed throughout all the channels, the surround and rear speakers being just as active as the front and centers. The levels are consistent. This music mix could not have been done any better – but what could have been done better is everything else.
While the music fills all channels, the rest of the audio is confined to the front, dialog and effects the same. The vocal mixing is absurd. Levels are unmatched, one person's dialog is much louder than another's. During scenes without music, the vocals slowly rise to a normal volume – but when we cut to the next music-filled scene, the dialog volume drops so low that you need to crank the master volume up. It's a joke how many lines of dialog are lost because of this odd inconsistency. Not helping the dialog issue is the fact that vocals waver back and forth from clear to muffled and distorted.
This forward mixing of the dialog and effects kills the dynamics of the audio. Despite the fantastic musical aspect, this mix feels flat, hollow and wasted.
'54' is the less-melodramatic disco version of 'Burlesque.' Unless you're blinded by the superficial content of the movie, you're going to find it hard to connect with anyone or anything in it. Telling the story of an unlikeable guy surrounded by unlikeable people in a setting that celebrates and encourages vanity and pretentiousness there's not a single thing worth rooting for in this movie. There's one decent character in the whole film, that of Neve Campbell, but she's hardly in it. Had Campbell's character been given a bigger presence in the movie, it may have been improved the likability factor – but as-is, it's nothing more than a ten minute cameo that got her face plastered on the movie's poster and cover art. Matching the bad quality of the film are atrocious video and audio transfers. The super soft and detail-less video quality resembles that of a DVD and the audio is a flat mess with the vocal levels so inconsistent and low that whole lines of dialog are left inaudible. The only special feature on the disc is a cheesy music video that's reminiscent of something you'd see in 'Austin Powers.' Unless you were a shameless disco partier in the late '70s who wants to have non-drug induced flashbacks of the era, then don't even think about giving '54' a chance.