Staying Alive (1983)

12 Dec

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Smith’s Verdict: *

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

What has happened to Tony Manero? By the end of “Saturday Night Fever,” you feel that this Brooklyn wiseass has smartened up and matured enough to know there’s more to life than being a jerk and being king of the dance floor at a disco. But in its sequel, “Staying Alive” (named after the popular Bee Gees song), which catches up with Tony about five years later in Manhattan, Tony is someone we hardly recognize. And it doesn’t help that a boring, recycled plot with a PG rating replaces the hard R-rated edge of “Saturday Night Fever.” The result is a quite lame movie that didn’t need to be a sequel to “Saturday Night Fever” because we’re not seeing Tony Manero grow up; we’re just seeing John Travolta as a Broadway dancer in a series of one heavily-edited music-video-style sequence after another so that the whole movie feels like another version of “Flashdance.”

This is what Tony Manero (played again by John Travolta) has reduced to—a wimp who has lost his edge in the same way that Rocky Balboa lost his edge with “Rocky” sequel upon “Rocky” sequel. And wouldn’t you know it—this sequel was directed and co-written by Rocky himself, Sylvester Stallone. Stallone has made Tony into a naïve bore whose occasional smartass moments don’t define him in the slightest and apparently hasn’t learned a damn thing since the first film (remember—five years ago) about women, since he is trapped in yet another story in which he falls in love with the wrong girl instead of the girl he only sees as a pal, and then he will learn the only person who matters. And what’s worse is that he and Jackie (Cynthia Rhodes) are so good together, despite the fact the Jackie is all too patient and should probably just forget about Tony already, that you just want to smack Tony for not only going to score with the other girl, a snobby, experienced British dancer named Laura (Finola Hughes), but constantly staying sweet and making promises he can’t keep to Jackie who deserves better.

What about the real story? It’s dreadfully dull, as it involves Tony getting a job dancing for a stage play called “Satan’s Alley,” and desperately trying to give the audience something to remember about him. And that’s about it—it’s all too simple. Love triangle, rehearsals, coming of age, blah blah blah. It’s pretty tired stuff. And it doesn’t help that the film barely goes five minutes without a new song, a heavily-edited montage, or usually both. There’s no substance; it’s all style. And the worse part is the big explosive climax in which Tony does perform in the play. And this play, this “Satan’s Alley” which is assumingly about an ascension into heaven, is ridiculously bad. This payoff is a play that I would walk out of very quickly. It’s incomprehensible and just plain outlandish.

Oh, and the dancing sucks too. It’s below par when you think of Broadway dancing. And there isn’t a single moment that comes close to capturing the excitement and energy of John Travolta’s solo disco dance in the previous film, because we can guess that Travolta doesn’t have what it takes to be a Broadway dancer and he’s usually shot from the waist up. He may dance disco, but not much else.

“Staying Alive” forgets what “Saturday Night Fever” was all about. The previous film was not about dancing; it was about a complicated character that danced. This time, there is dancing all throughout, and there is a character who is not so complicated this time around. It would not matter in the slightest if Tony Manero was the focus here because the character is completely lost, and not even the charismatic John Travolta could bring him back. “Staying Alive” is one of the worst sequels I have ever seen.

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