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James Berardinelli review - *1/2 out of ****

The passage of time has labeled 1983’s Staying Alive as a turkey, but the contemporaneous view (at least to Paramount’s bean counters) was somewhat different. Although critics lambasted the movie upon its release, with Roger Ebert giving an especially scathing review (“[It] looks like a high-tech TV auto commercial that got sick to its stomach”), audiences were less harsh. In the box office sweepstakes, Staying Alive accrued about $65M, which was good enough for #7 at year’s-end. While viewers of the time were interested to see what happened to Tony Manero (John Travolta) post-Saturday Night Fever, the film missed expectations and the movie’s reputation stared on a (deserved) downward spiral from which it has never recovered.

Making a sequel to Saturday Night Fever was a dubious prospect from the beginning. John Badham’s 1977 hit was a cultural touchstone. As I noted in my review: “It all comes down to the music, the dancing, and the film’s ability to capture an era that flared brightly then faded quickly.” The essence of Saturday Night Fever could never have been recaptured even in a less commercially-focused effort. However, by turning Tony’s story into an ‘80s fairy tale, the movie not only fails on its own merits but degrades its predecessor by association. Staying Alive isn’t about anything except trying to breathe life into Travolta’s then-fading career and making money off a recognizable title.

At Travolta’s request, Sylvester Stallone was hired to direct because the lead actor felt the Rocky star could bring the right mix of energy and machismo to the project. Stallone, however, who did a partial rewrite of the script, doesn’t seem to understand Tony. Even granting that five years have passed, the character in the sequel feels like a different person. His story isn’t interesting. His redemptive arc is boring. Everything about Staying Alive is cliched: characters, story, dialogue… There’s not a single original or interesting thing to be found. Even the music is tired and, although Travolta evinces the same physicality he showed in Saturday Night Fever, the sense of joy is gone. What does it say when the most upbeat moment occurs at the end when the soundtrack finally gets around to reviving the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” and Travolta finally struts?

Staying Alive transpires a half-decade after Saturday Night Fever. The landscape has changed both literally and figuratively. The disco where Tony had some of his most memorable moments has become a strip club. Tony no longer lives in Brooklyn; he has moved to Manhattan where he does menial jobs while auditioning for acting/dancing jobs. He spends an inordinate amount of time trying to get noticed – not an unusual circumstance for an amateur with talent but no resume. Meanwhile, his romantic life features a series of clandestine one-night stands that he pursues behind the back of his faithful girlfriend, singer/dancer Jackie (Cynthia Rhodes). The latest woman to catch Tony’s roving eye is British dancer Laura (Finola Hughes, a few years away from starting her career-defining role on General Hospital), who is as much a user-of-others as Tony. When Laura tosses Tony aside following a tryst, he gets a taste of his own medicine. This causes him to re-examine his life, repair his fraying relationship with Jackie, go home to Mom (Julie Bovasso) to apologize for his “attitude,” and redouble his efforts to seize the male lead in an upcoming Broadway show, “Satan’s Alley,” directed by Kenny Loggins-lookalike Jesse (Steve Inwood).

One of the most curious decisions made by screenwriters Stallone and Norman Wexler was to bring back only one character from the original film (aside from Tony). Although shoehorning Mrs. Manero into the script provides a tangible connection to Saturday Night Fever, her inclusion raises questions about what happened to all of Tony’s friends and the other members of his family. Are we to assume that his father died? If so, why wasn’t this at least referenced in the canned dialogue between the two during the dining room scene? And why was no one except his mother at Tony’s Broadway debut? At various times, there were plans for appearances by Karen Lynn Gorney (Stephanie), Donna Pescow (Annette), and Val Bisoglio (Frank Manero Sr.), but these all fell through, to the movie’s detriment.

The decision to make Staying Alive a PG movie causes everything to feel neutered. The story oozes sexuality but the filmmakers are forced to resort to innuendo and assumption. When Saturday Night Fever was initially released, it had a solid R, with sex (some violent) and nudity. The decision to re-release the movie with a PG rating to focus on the dancing and cash-in on Travolta’s popularity led to a belief that any sequel should be as “family friendly” as possible – an obvious creative misstep.


As mediocre as much of the hackneyed drama is, nothing comes close to the level of abomination achieved by the tedious, pretentious, and unwatchable 10-15 minutes of “Satan’s Alley” that make it to the screen. Those who stick around after this endurance trial are rewarded by the movie’s lone good scene – the one at the very end when the movie recreates the opening of Saturday Night Fever. Thematically, this provides a bookend – it’s just unfortunate that so much of the second chapter is poorly conceived, poorly executed, and just plain bad.


Stallone hasn't been able to write or act with even a hint of intelligent subtlety since First Blood (excepting perhaps the end of Rambo II). He's the textbook example of someone who quickly cashed in on the superficialness of the early 1980s and never since climbed out of the meat headed depths to which he sank. If I see Stallone's name attached to anything I automatically think it'll be brainless cheese.