With its who’s who cast of 90s all-stars, “54” isn’t a nostalgic ode to the 70s as much as it feels like a denim jacket-clad version of “Scream” or “Cruel Intentions.” Writer and director Mark Christopher seems to think that if you turn on a disco ball and fashion Ryan Phillipe with a perm that we’ll be immediately brought back to the age of jive. But “54” leaves us in the cold outside, waiting in line to hopefully catch a glimpse of anything interesting happening in this barren movie.
Focusing on the legendary Studio 54 nightclub and its eccentric founder Steve Rubell (Mike Myers), this movie is actually told through the eyes of Shane O’Shea (Ryan Phillippe, an aspiring night owl with big city dreams of clubbing in the grandeur of Manhattan instead of the grime of Jersey. Shane gets spotted in line by Rubell who ends up giving him a job as a busboy. There, aspiring latin singer Anita Randazzo (Salma Hayek) and her smooth yet dunce-like husband Greg (Breckin Meyer) curry the favor of Shane, becoming the surrogate family in this Bee Gee-blasting, smack-snorting home.
“54” is interesting as a character study, if you only focus on Anita, the only person who has some sort of major dream in the film. This would have bode well with how Studio 54 wasn’t just to dance under a giant disco ball, but a place where if you stand in the right angle, your reflection might be discovered by a power player of some sort. Sadly, “54’s” actual plot focuses on Shane doing uninteresting things so he can pursue his career of….nothing.
That’s not totally true, as other things supposedly happen in “54.” There’s a contrived romance story between Shane and soap actress Julie Black (Neve Campbell), an IRS investigation that never feels pressing or important, and some squabbles between Shane and his family who all feel like wax statues meant to resemble brothers and sisters.
It’s sad, because the most interesting part of the Studio 54 that Christopher gives us are the people, the grannies and the gays and the artists and the auteurs, who all have face paint on when they’re in the club but their real mask is shown when the walk outside the club doors. Myers does well as Rubell, and Hayek gives the best performance as Anita. But the collective effort of “54’s” cast ends up weaker than its individual parts, where too many faces have not enough interesting things to say.