Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on August 8, 1980
Directed by Robert Greenwald
Written by Richard Christian Danus and Marc Reid Rubel
Cast: Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly, Michael Beck, James Sloyan, Dimitra Arliss, Katie Hanley, Sandahl Bergman, Jo Ann Harris, Lynn Latham, Matt Lattanzi, Ira Newborn, Wilfrid Hyde-White (voice)
So there I was, a high-schooler at the dawn of the ’80s, visiting my grandparents in Ohio during summer vacation and spending an afternoon at a record store in Sandusky, when a blue and burgundy record album caught my eye; upon closer inspection I discovered that it was the soundtrack for an upcoming movie, featuring the music of my favorite band, the Electric Light Orchestra, and one of my favorite female vocalists, Olivia Newton-John. I had no idea what the film was about, but I was eager to check it out when I returned home.
And check it out I did, subjecting myself not once but twice in one sitting to the cosmic misalignment known as Xanadu, a whimsical collision of roller skating, pop songs, dancing, neon-lit special effects, leg warmers, and perhaps the most debilitating screenplay and dialogue ever loosed on an unsuspecting public. And yet, knowing all that, one week later I actually went to see it again.
Yes, this cinematic furball held some sort of morbid fascination for my friend Reid and I thirty years ago, when we happily suffered through it three times at our neighborhood cinema, and our 17-year-old libidos fell in love with the idea of a beautiful blonde muse falling for an ordinary schmuck. But now that I can see through the Olivia-induced haze and ELO soundtrack, I can honestly tell you that Xanadu is nothing but a happy-go-lucky, glitzy piece of ill-conceived crud.
It was sincere, I guess, in trying to forge some sort of modern-day fantasy romance out of an age-old story, and at times there were some moments on display that actually were not worthy of a cringe or a roll of the eye (Don Bluth’s animated sequence was by far the high point for me), but everything else was trapped under deep layers of cheese and extreme…well, gaiety.
As far as the three eclectic leads were concerned, Olivia had at least a smidgen of charisma (and at times was indeed totally hot), and hoofer Gene Kelly was corny in an old-fashioned kind of way, but Michael Beck…his perpetually stone-faced expression may have worked for his gang leader character in The Warriors, but here it just made him seem disinterested and lost. Seriously, what good can you say about a film that was not only nominated for six Razzie awards (and took one home, for worst director), but was the very reason the awards were created in the first place?
Not much. I guess you could acknowledge that the filmmakers made decent use of the abandoned Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles, with its art deco look and four trademark spires, and that the soundtrack album was a pretty good listen, charting high in the US and UK and still a part of my record collection, and that the film itself was as harmless as a dizzy spell, offering ninety minutes of cheery, exuberant emptiness.
But lord, was the rest of it a mess. If anything, the movie succeeded in taking me back to the summer of 1980, and reminding me that short shorts and roller skates are not—nor were they ever—an agreeable fashion combo for guys. And to steal a phrase from my friends over at the B-Movie Chicks site, what this film needed more than anything were some boobies and explosions. (2/10)