Comfortable and Furious

The Amusingly Bonkers: Part 3

How often do you find a good movie? I mean, what’s your success rate? Nowadays I guess mine’s pretty low, especially whenever I explore 21st century efforts. Many end up unfinished, typified by the woeful batch I just tried to sit through. Here I got Rebecca De Mornay biting Antonio Banderas’ newly showered butt while telling him: “That’s how I like my men – naked and wet.”

Elsewhere, the delectable Susan George in a lilac mohair short dress lured me into the 1971 babysitter-in-peril prototype Fright before turning into an annoying Silly Girly. Then Tom Skerritt threw dignity to the wind, not caring he was more than four decades older than Drew Barrymore while tugging off her rain-soaked panties for a bit of alfresco nookie on a car bonnet. Neither was I impressed by Sharon Stone’s Clint Eastwood impersonation in the stylised and predictable Leone-inspired mess, The Quick and the Dead. I saved the worst for last, though, and could do little but blankly stare at a pair of bewildered guinea pigs doing their best to pretend they were ravenous rats sitting atop the scarlet-painted tummy of a screaming, strapped-down inmate in SS Hell Camp.


The things I have to endure in trying to find a decent flick. Occasionally I feel like Homer Simpson thumping the top of his TV set and demanding: “Be more funny!” Worse, sometimes after stepping in cinematic dog shit four or five times in a row, all my enthusiasm drains away. This can result in out of character stuff, like wandering outside and talking to people, but such ill judged ventures invariably drive me back indoors to restart the pitiful process.

These days I’m often happy to settle for what I call the amusingly bonkers. Such movies are not good. They don’t provide any protein but are more a silly, entertaining mix of easily swallowed sugar and carbs, something to tide me over until the likes of The Long Good Friday or Dr. Strangelove provide a more fulfilling feed.

Staying Alive (1983)

Sylvester Stallone’s sequel to the smash hit Saturday Night Fever offers quite a few surprises in that it took six years to arrive, binned every supporting character bar one, removed all the grit, and gave Travolta the chance to blissfully burrow up the devil’s backside. Universally panned, it still took more than $120mil at the box office. It’s filled with sub-par songs, montages, leotards, blow-dried hair and lots of close-up pouting. In Fever Travolta mainly kept his feet on the ground. Here he slips on a headband and leaps all over the place.

The story: Theatre once again demonstrates it’s just a load of pretentious bollocks. Instead of realism we get the tale of a plucky underdog, buckets of fantasy and an overload of cheesy hilarity. A good editor would have chopped this one down to thirty minutes. Nevertheless, I’m a fan.

The characters

Tony Manero (Travolta): Our gold chain-adorned former disco king has moved from Brooklyn to a Manhattan dosshouse in a bid to become a Broadway dancer, ditching booze, fags and profanity along the way. Now sans mates, he’s got no choice but to hang around with girls. In other words, he’s twenty times duller. Some things don’t change, though, and he remains a thick, tactless, sulky, self-obsessed nob. To pay the bills he works as a dance instructor and nightclub waiter while failing auditions and being rejected by casting agencies all over town. At least he’s still a pussy magnet, but these days he gets treated as if he’s the woman. “I love to watch you walk,” a joyless, vaguely carnivorous old flame tells him before inviting him to take part in another threesome. Tony can only point out that the last time he accepted such an offer he almost got brain damage. His former fuck shrugs. “Guys like you aren’t relationships,” she retorts. “You’re exercise.”

Poor Tony. At one point he even gets kicked out of bed.

Jackie (Cynthia Rhodes): Aka Lovelorn Doormat. She’s a stereotypical nice girl who dances, sings and remains supportive and ultra-faithful to her cheating man. Often cries. Gets no good lines whatsoever as she orbits Planet Tony.

Laura (Finola Hughes): Aka Stuck-Up Rich Bitch. Despite my untutored eye suggesting she’s an ordinary dancer, somewhat lacking in grace, flexibility and technique, Tony (just like Michael in The Godfather) is hit by an Apollonian Thunderbolt the moment he claps eyes on this dire Carrie Fisher lookalike. For the next five minutes he can do nothing but inanely grin, later confessing that seeing her dance is ‘like watching smoke move.’ Her personality is concisely sketched when Tony gushes that she’s incredible. “Thank you,” she replies with the utmost sincerity, “but I do already know that.”

Jesse (Steve Inwood): Aka Mr. Scowly Motivator. He’s got the blow-dried, bearded look down to a T and spends the whole movie overdressed and unimpressed by whatever’s in front of him. “What we’re having here is a conceptual interpretation problem,” this director tells a bunch of underperforming dancers. “You are translators of body language.” I think that means jig around a bit better, but no one seems to respond the way he wants, perhaps put off by his constipation-generated, unalterable expression. At least they understand whenever he spits out again!, which isn’t really much of a catchphrase.

Why it’s bonkers: Staying Alive is heavily padded, gently amusing rubbish for well over an hour with its lamentably safe writing trying to depict personal growth, ambition, sexual tension and a love triangle. Its drop in quality can be illustrated by the soundtrack. In the original The Bee Gees offered classics, but here they warble clunky nonsense like: “The woman in you brings out the man in me/It’s the woman in you and the finer parts of your anatomy.

However, Alive comes to memorable life during its climactic Broadway show called (wait for it) Satan’s Alley. Nothing gay about that, is there? And if Satan is indeed Lord of the Underworld then why would he care about an alley? Hasn’t he got some better real estate to swan around?

Anyway, Tony, a lowly member of the chorus line, seizes his chance to become the star of this fabulous new production by ousting the glowering, malfunctioning lead in five minutes flat. “This is bullshit,” gripes our quivering former lead before flouncing off. Yes, mate, you could be right. And so what is Satan’s Alley about? “It’s a journey through hell,” Mr. Scowly Motivator tells us, which is just as well because we sure don’t get any other clue to the dog’s dinner we end up witnessing on stage.

From what I can understand an oiled, shaven-chested Travolta in a ripped loincloth is stuck in hell (perhaps a fitting punishment for 1978’s Moment by Moment) battling a load of writhing, dry ice-bound zombies as his Catholic mum crosses herself in the audience. Some reach out through the bars of their prison cell to grab his throat, making me wonder if it’s really necessary to have a prison in hell. Isn’t that overkill? Or are there some people in Hades so bad that they have to be put in jail as well? Stuck-Up Rich Bitch enters the action dressed in red, but I have no idea who she is or what she’s supposed to represent. A Stuck-Up Rich Bitch in red, I think. The audience, obviously much smarter than me, applauds anyway, even though they are pretty much watching the same nonsensical scene on repeat.

Now everything’s gone S&M, the leather-studded zombies are in Catwoman outfits, and our main man is getting whipped. In the background I swear a couple of the undead are unable to take the bullshit of theater anymore and are staggering around drunk. At halftime Mr. Scowly Motivator shouts with some justification: “What the hell is going on out there?” Travolta responds by throwing a hissy fit and flinging Stuck-Up Rich Bitch into the wings to do an unauthorized solo. “Where did he learn to do this?” his amazed mum says as she gets to her feet along with the rest of the crowd. Rehearsals would be my guess, ma’am. Travolta, trooper that he is, leaps, prances and twirls through it all in a variety of increasingly skimpy outfits that cast him as Tarzan, Jesus and a slimmed-down Rambo. For the most part he wears an expression that seems to say: I got into the shape of my life for this?






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