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JOHN TRAVOLTA IN 'SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER' AND 'STAYING ALIVE'

John Travolta (facing unseen talent agent Estelle Getty) YEAR: 1983
STAYING ALIVE: Believe it or not, STAYING ALIVE, the sequel to SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, is not a John Travolta film...

It belongs entirely to writer/director Sylvester Stallone, rehashing the ROCKY storyline of a diamond in the rough fighting to survive, and given a miraculous chance at quick fame (much like Stallone himself)...

Only here he's a dancer, not a boxer... and unlike the Oscar-winning southpaw tale, it's a pretty bad movie/great guilty pleasure, and fun as hell! Travolta struggles to make it from the streets to lead dancer in the cheesiest Broadway musical ever created, SATAN'S ALLEY (a title derived from Stallone's own b-movie, PARADISE ALLEY), a cross between CATS and a surreal flu dream...

"Dancing So Close... To... The Fire!"
Playing the character he made famous in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, Travolta's former Disco King Tony Manero charms his way into the bed of beautiful and classy Broadway star Finola Hughes, who turns the tables and uses him. And much like the FEVER dance contest finale, the big budget musical is what everything leads to... resulting in the same kind of whiny idealism for the main character, taking his dancing much too seriously... But now we're skipping ahead...

Cynthia's "Rocky" Rhodes
There's a contrived overabundance of Tony getting his just-deserts i.e. the player getting played by this devilish vixen, and his complaining gets tiresome...

All the while he uses his loyal girlfriend played by Cynthia Rhodes, a cross between FEVER originals Karen Lynn Gorney (talented) and Donna Pescow (sympathetic): Rhode's Jackie just can't help but to love the bad boy. And, like Rocky Balboa, our dancing hero, sculpted with mapped-out body muscles yet looking strangely gaunt, facially, strives for heights never thought possible: Tony, having "grown up," is now going for gold.

The new, geared-for-the-1980's Bee Gee's Soundtrack, unlike the classically catchy disco romps of the late-70's (which had seemed a thousand years earlier but was only six), is full of breezy, filler, forgettable pop tunes. Meanwhile, Frank Stallone's muscular fanfare, Far From Over, captures the "drive" a whole lot better, serving as a victorious anthem much like Bill Conti's Gonna Fly Now in ROCKY...

"Demented Paratroop;er"
In some ways, STAYING ALIVE is even more entertaining than the original, centering completely on Tony sans intrusion from his priest brother, bickering parents (though mom provides a mellow cameo), or his pointlessly plotted cronies... And the intentionally hollow side-characters here, including Steve Inwood as an edgy Broadway director, are working hard to keep him ready and steady for opening night.

And now we'll end with a nostalgic memory: Yours truly was in the theater when this movie's trailer played... The audience roared with laughter when then-dated-as-now title showed up on the screen... So let's give Stallone a hand for such a risky venture, and during his peak, no less...

Staying Alive Normal Movie Score: *** Bad Movie Cult Status: ****
So keep an eye out for the director's cameo, pictured below, while Tony walks down the streets of Manhattan... In one scene Sly's brother Frank, playing a guitarist for Jackie's band, is described by Tony as looking like a "demented paratrooper," which is writer Sly's own words describing his bro....

And last but not least but definitely the most obscure pop culture Easter Egg for Cinefiles (years before we used banal movie-geek catchphrases like Easter Eggs... or Cinefiles): If you listen closely towards the end of the movie during the halfway point of the musical where, backstage, you'll hear someone say: "Yo, Adrian... Showtime!"

disco year of: 1977
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER: It doesn’t matter to John Travolta’s Tony Manero whether he’s dancing at the local nightclub or walking down the street during daylight work hours… He’s got the type of oblivious, jangly rhythm not even a shabby neighborhood can touch…

Serpico Night Fever
Which is extremely important since his friends don't have much to do with the plotline, mostly centering on Tony either brooding alone, looking into a mirror or his movie posters, dancing in the center of a cheering/clapping crowd, or suffering a friendly romance with uptown girl Stephanie, a pretentious sophisticate who drops more names than a phone book made of sleet...

No news here, but it's the music on the million dollar soundtrack that's the real deal, headlined by the Bee Gees Stayin’ Alive, a funky shuffling anthem impossible not to move around to...

Other songs include How Deep is your Love, obviously providing the love theme throughout despite an unrequited romance: The established playboy has finally met a chick he can't melt with his usual sly charm... More Than A Woman is the soulful dance groove while Night Fever, a backbeat rendition of Stayin’ Alive, is a far better tune. Of course tracks by other artists also keep the ball rolling including Disco Inferno, Boogie Shoes and A Fifth of Beethoven, all taking place within the 2001 ODYSSEY nightclub, a location director John Badham captures in all its glittery glory.

The Rea Goldmine was the Album
Cinematic fiction aside, not everyone was (or is) a disco fan... DISCO SUCKS was once a catchphrase and ever-used graffiti quote. The trendy genre was a threat to rock n' rollers and the punk movement reveled in the inevitable demise. Ever since, disco has since become a polyester punchline. But it's been a while since the late 1970’s, turning every form of music into a cherished antique serving the pop culture template as a whole, and...

Back to basics... the friendship between Tony and his gang could have meant more, overall, like in GREASE where each "T-Bird" had a purpose other than propping up their leader's overall significance. But with an expectation of the doomed Bobby (played by Barry Miller, who turns in a much better performance as a whizkid in PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED), none of the fellas really stand out. One scene where they, goading their leader, bark like dogs at a White Castle is downright embarrassing: to Tony and the audience. And a sidestory about a local rival gang seems completely tacked on.

SNF Score: ***
Meanwhile, Tony's fangirls, including Donna Pescow’s starry eyed Annette, who hangs around street corners just to watch Tony walk, or Fran Drescher as the non-rhythmic Connie, are useful idiots showing how uncaring our lead character is...

"One day you'll direct me!"
In this current wimpy environment, Tony's selfish and politically incorrect personality is something to admire...You won't see that in a main character any longer... Tony Manero would now be a villain.

John Travolta’s dire expressions alone, sifting in and out of the nightclub or dealing with his friends and family, including bickering parents and a brother who fled the priesthood, are fun to watch in a mainstream movie trying really hard for a plot, or for that matter, several weaving plots to make the dance numbers seem peripheral...

But no matter how hard it tries being a gritty urban melodrama, FEVER winds up a soundtrack film with an intentionally pointless anti-hero looking to strike an egocentric claim on existence... Yet his only real motivation, overriding even the desire to win the climactic dance contest, is when Tony tries for sexual action with his dance partner – the catch being only he’s interested in romance, which ironically winds up making him a more interesting character throughout.
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