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“Staying Alive” has always been a notorious movie that always came with the legacy of being one of the worst movies ever made, and one of the worst sequels, barnone. It’s hard to achieve a feat as high as “Saturday Night Fever” which wasn’t just a movie about disco music, but was also a wonderful coming of age drama. With star John Travolta taking any role he could in the seventies and eighties, “Staying Alive” is that classic case of both being incapable of catching lightning in a bottle twice, and a studio not knowing what made their first film so great, in the first place.
It’s not so much that Sylvester Stallone directs “Staying Alive,” despite being a big step down from John Badham. It’s that Stallone has no real understanding or idea to what made “Saturday Night Fever” so great. He approaches this follow up with this coked up, early eighties fervor that tries to top the original and fails spectacularly. Is “Staying Alive” a terrible movie? Sure. But is it the worst sequel of all time? Not by a long shot. That’s bold to say especially since “Exorcist II: The Heretic” existed in 1977. Six years after the events of “Saturday Night Fever,” Tony Manero has seemingly moved on from his neighborhood and now lives in the slums of Manhattan.
Holed up in a motel, he spends his days looking for dance auditions, while working at night. When he meets a dazzling new dancer, he gets a chance to audition for a big new Broadway show. And that’s about that. The big problem with “Staying Alive” is that Sylvester Stallone lacks any of the clear intellect or emotional maturity to bring us a new exploit with Tony Manero. Manero is a complicated protagonist who we’re supposed to love to hate in many ways. He’s a womanizer and a bit of an asshole, but he’s aspiring to do better and be a better person. 1977’s “Saturday Night Fever” wasn’t just about the dancing. It was about growing up, and leaving your childhood behind.
About looking for something better, all the while Tony’s dancing was his way of escaping the realities of his potentially dead end domestic existence. Stallone completely misses the point just opting instead to squeeze in as many dancing scenes in to ninety minutes, all the while promoting his brother Frank Stallone. He’s, of course, on the film’s soundtrack. The screenplay lacks so much actual substance and story that Stallone pads the run time with five minute dance sequences that do nothing to progress the story and only look like he’s trying to mimic MTV.
When we meet Tony again, he’s surprisingly alone without anyone to really support him. None of the original cast members return with only Julie Bovasso making a walk on as Tony’s mom. Pal Stephanie is mentioned in passing as having left New York, but she’s never seen again. There’s also an implication Tony’s father passed away but that’s also never touched on. Manero lives in a run down hotel, and works his ass off, which is a big departure from the Manero who was brimming with potential in the original film. Rather than build on this, Stallone instead just packs the movie with musical performances and dance numbers.
The dance sequences are an obvious crutch for a movie with so little meat to the story and so little character development or conflict. Stallone misses the subtle character beats and nuances of the original film, opting for a clumsier return to Tony Manero. Where as in the original the big turning point was Manero realizing he was fed up with his neighborhood and wanted to grow up, here the big turning point is the big performance in the climax where Manero, uh–dances… good…? On Broadway, too! And he finishes off his victory with a strut!
Because, remember “Saturday Night Fever”?
He’s no different in the end than he was at the beginning of “Staying Alive” and surprisingly the movie tries to peg that as something of an accomplishment. If you’re going to try to continue the tale of Tony Manero it’s a great idea to bring something new and original to the table, but “Staying Alive” belly flops, missing the point completely.