54 ★★½

The worst film I've seen in four months, and I wouldn't mind seeing it again. In other words, I've been on a ridiculously fortunate cinematic streak of late.

I have always been aware of 54, but only developed the urge to finally check it out after its somewhat reappraisal of late in the wake of the director's cut. I was already an avid reader of generic teen mags in 1998, which in Australia at the time included the likes of TV Hits and Smash Hits. Naturally, with popular pin ups such as Ryan Phillippe and Neve Campbell, I recall this film receiving full page ads and some generous coverage around that time. That poster to the left still takes me back to those innocent (but curious on the cusp of pre-teen) times, and I remember singing along to If You Could Read My Mind in the car a lot with my dad whilst it was charting (he always had a fondness for deep-voiced women doing club hits, I like to think he was a drag viking in a previous life). But due to the nature of the beast, and a fictionalised one at that, 54 was largely relegated to the odd late night reruns and all but failed to stamp itself as the definitive film on the matter.

54 needs to be a fun film, and it is. 1998 would have to be one of the years where my nostalgia runs deepest, and I am often hard-pressed to find a populist film from that period that doesn't offer up at least some level of enjoyment. The project runner ultimately lacks the nous to meet his appetite, but he nevertheless injects a lot of interesting thoughts, monetary-based relations and queer perspective into the hedonistic verve on display. The coming of age angle into the world of the film works as it should, whilst at the same time providing evidence of its mediocrity.54 is a solid watch until the inherently indulgent, glittery spiral of soulless excess leaves the film gasping in a gooey mess. It effectively captures the spirit of the Studio 54 legend and convinces the audience of its rarefied status, but at the same time I felt like this sort of terrain had been explored previously, bigger and badder.

The soundtrack always makes or breaks a disco subculture film, and the clumsy one here is unable to fill up the gaps. The patchy, broadly drawn soundtrack arguably defines the modest results of the film, lacking some of the insight required to locate a soul and penetrate the hearts of audiences. Even a more crime-oriented film like Carlito's Way is able to nail this crucial disco-era duty. Only a few songs here threaten to stick with you as 54 songs, which might explain the muted fanbase.

The likeable cast ensemble is also rather dated to the era, a snapshot into who was happening at the time and posing a lot of where are they now questions. Breckin Meyer outside of Garfield generally equates to late 90s, and some bigger stars of the time have almost vanished from mainstream attention. There are even some surprise appearances by now familiar faces like Mark Ruffalo. Phillippe, as in Cruel Intentions, certainly looks the part in these timelessly hedonistic settings, but lacks the chops to convincingly carry this film on his shoulders. As a fairy flavoured dunderhead and audience entry point, he is certainly well cast, but not much more. Say what you will about Mike Myers, but he often has the uncanny talent to surround himself with mediocrities and thereby make it all about him, and 54 provides him with one of the best opportunities in his career to demonstrate his worth and authority.

Whilst it pales significantly in comparison to its comparatively erudite time and place twin The Last Days of Disco, and even lacks the guilty pleasure charm to be found in the likes of the so silly but oh so 90s A Night at the Roxbury, the director's cut of 54 offers momentous entertainment for all so inclined. The only reason to see this film is Myer's performance, which in the right director's hands may have garnered him an unlikely Oscar nomination. But if a Studio 54 dirge doesn't appeal to you at least in some way, then you might want to check your pulse. This delivers what it promises on the tin. Critically it leaves you wanting, and the film is a tryer more than an achiever, but brilliance is certainly sprinkled throughout, enough to leave any regrets at the door.