Staying Alive (1983)

Synopsis:

Five years have passed since Tony Manero (John Travolta, Pulp Fiction), “The Fred Astaire of Brooklyn,” conquered the dance floor at the 2001 Odyssey nightclub. Tony is now among dozens of struggling dancers in Manhattan, New York, seeking fame and fortune Would he ever make it as a professional dancer?

Reaction & Thoughts:

“You know, you’re not exactly the greatest dancer ever to hit Broadway!”

In retrospect, Saturday Night Fever (1977) was really a variation on the Rocky (1976) formula, with a nightclub dance floor replacing the boxing ring (both movies are about young Italian-Americans). That’s why, I think, Rocky Balboa himself, actor, director and writer Sylvester Stallone was hired to bring back Tony Manero to the big screen.

Stallone co-wrote, co-produced and directed Staying Alive, and perhaps he was not the right person for the job after all. The difference between Saturday Night Fever and Staying Alive is the same difference between Rocky and its sequels — grittiness was replaced with glitter. This sequel just doesn’t have enough moments of truthfulness to counterbalance its manufactured gloss.

The film’s biggest problem is that the main character isn’t well-drawn, so you’re never emotionally invested in him to really care. Without an emotional core, we are left with a series of dance sequences that while well-choreographed, and competently shot by Stallone, they are not all that thrilling to watch. Stallone also fails to capture New York’s unique milieu — I couldn’t help but feel that the film missed an opportunity to explore the dynamics of a very heterogeneous community.

However, despite the film’s many flaws, Staying Alive “stays alive” with the help of Travolta’s endearing personality and The Bee Gees’ fantastic soundtrack. When Travolta is dancing, you suddenly forget about the many things that don’t work. The actor, who went through a much-publicized physical training, looks like a real dancer.

In addition to Travolta, the cast includes Cynthia Rhodes (Flashdance), Finola Hughes (Above Suspicion) and Julie Bovasso (Moonstruck) as Travolta’s mom. Sly’s kid bother, Frank Stallone plays a musician (he also wrote a few good songs). Patrick Swayze has a bit as a dancer. Swayze and Rhodes would be paired together in the 1987 smash hit Dirty Dancing, which was clearly inspired by Saturday Night Fever.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Staying Alive is often placed among the worst sequels ever made, but it is not nearly as bad is it reputation suggests — I’ve seen worse. It’s just totally unnecessary and pretty mindless. John Travolta is good as usual, though. Plus, The Bee Gees’ songs are irresistible, and the “Satan’s Alley” musical number (surprisingly well-shot by director Sylvester Stallone) is fun in a sort of campy way. Color, 93 minutes, Rated PG.

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