Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Staying Alive.”
The Movie: “Staying Alive”
Starring: John Travolta, Cynthia Rhodes, Finola Hughes
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) It’s five years later and Tony Manero’s Saturday Night Fever is still burning. Now he’s strutting toward his biggest challenge yet – succeeding as a dancer on the Broadway stage.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 0 percent
Froemming: Two weeks ago, we visited Nicholas Cage being somewhat “un-Cagey” in “National Treasure,” the poor man’s “Indiana Jones.” It left me feeling somewhat empty. There was no wild outbursts and insane acting: Just Cage playing it straight.
I think it was withdrawals from Cage-inspired madness that hit me with a fever. A Saturday Night Fever. I realized that after the past few months, we at the JOE-DOWN have been missing an essential ingredient to this blog.
John (REDACTED) Travolta.
The realization cleared my mind and the fever went away. But what does one do when the Saturday Night Fever vanishes?
Why, it is all about “Staying Alive.”
Yes, I picked the sequel no one wanted to the nihilistic disco hit that made Travolta a star. A sequel that asked the question: What if we followed up the life of Tony Manero, but took out all the things that made “Saturday Night Fever” good? Like, say, replacing the Bee Gees on the soundtrack (for the most part) with Norm Macdonald’s favorite Weekend Update punching bag Frank Stallone? And let’s make Tony an even bigger monster than in the first one.
Brown, while I practice my dance moves for a Broadway play that is a combination of cocaine and “Naked Lunch,” why don’t you give us your first impressions?
Brown: So I’ve been dealing with a little cold this weekend and took some NyQuil. Then when I woke up, I watched “Staying Alive.”
And at this point, I don’t know if what I just watched was a movie or a NyQuil nightmare. A nightmare would probably make more sense.
It’s one thing to have John Travolta and all his … eccentricities on full display. But you combine that with another JOE-DOWN favorite, Sylvester Stallone, directing this (REDACTED) sandwich?!
It’s magic. Magic that no one ever asked for.
Before going into this movie, I only knew about Satan’s Alley and the ending, which is the best part of the movie, due to how much I watched those “I Love the 80s” shows on VH1 as a teenager. And, I’m sure that’s all I’m going to remember when all this NyQuil gets flushed out of my system.
Froemming, why don’t you get us started while I try to find my best white leisure suit?
Froemming: Five years have passed since Bobby fell to his death on the Brooklyn Bridge and Tony started a toxic codependent relationship with Stephanie that we never hear about in this movie. Maybe she wised up, or jumped off the bridge like Bobby realizing her future with Tony would end up at Gilley’s riding mechanical bulls. I dunno.
Tony is now living in Manhattan, living in a flophouse right out of a Kerouac novel and is a dance instructor. He is also involved with Jackie, one of two women in this movie that we see their #MeToo story unfold with Tony. He is trying to be a star at dancing, which given how coked out the 1980s were, makes sense to me I guess.
My favorite part of the intro to this movie, which is one of what I think is 90 montages in this film, is we see Kurtwood Smith as a choreographer looking angry and disappointed as people dance around him, like he wants to put a foot in their asses or something. It also proves that Kurtwood Smith has never, ever been a young man. He was born 55 years old. It is the only explanation.
Brown: Seriously, did we have any inkling that Tony wanted to be a Broadway dancer in “Saturday Night Fever?” All I remember is him just wanting to be young and pick up chicks with his dancing. Plus, I don’t know how disco translates to choreographed stage dancing.
Also, kudos to Travolta for getting yoked up in this movie. Though it holds up with my long-held belief on Sylvester Stallone movies in that he creates them just to have an excuse to get all oiled and muscly. It wasn’t him in this case but he was surely living through John Travolta.
And while Tony is trying to live his dream, it’s… not going so hot. He gets turned down at every audition. Talent agents want nothing to do with him. He shows up to this dance studio to work while I’m thinking he’s there to be a cleaner and handle epic pube situations like Abbie in “Broad City.” Worst of all, Tony has this terrible soundtrack following him.
Legit, does this movie exist only because it’s probably Frank Stallone’s demo reel?
Froemming: This movie caused me to write this in my notes, and I will never forgive it for that: I can’t believe I’m saying this, BUT FRANK STALLONE IS MORE LIKABLE THAN TRAVOLTA.
This movie replaces the disco hits with generic ’80s bar rock, which was another interesting choice on Stallone’s part. And by interesting, I mean horrible.
Now, Tony is struggling and is mad at Jackie because she is succeeding in this business better than he is. This legitimately happens, he sulks like a little kid and treats her like garbage. Maybe if he, you know, tried harder and made an effort to show up to work on time, he might be more successful in life.
Or, and this is what my advice to him would be:
Brown: Being mad at Jackie for succeeding is just the tip of the mental anguish iceberg that Tony puts her through. Throughout the entire movie, Jackie is seen as settling for Tony. When a new play thing in Laura shows up, Tony completely ignores Jackie like she’s the racist uncle at Thanksgiving. When Jackie acts friendly with Frank Stallone, Tony flies into a jealous rage the likes we haven’t seen since “Urban Cowboy.” And, spoilers, they end up together, Tony talks about how being with Jackie is “comfortable.”
Dude, that is such a (REDACTED) backhanded compliment. You may as well make your vows and tell the whole congregation about how Jackie is your silver medal, you disco trash.
The Chicago White Sox were right to have Disco Demolition Night. Naturally, it caused a riot because disco sucks THAT much.
Froemming: I said it in the “Saturday Night Fever” review, but I will say it again: Your mom is a hero for owning a shirt that said “Disco Sucks.”
Now, Tony does visit Jackie at one of her dance practices or whatever the hell it is called and is smitten by his second #MeToo victim of the movie, a British woman named Laura. As Jackie goes to her dressing room, Tony starts acting like Harvey Weinstein and stalks Laura to her room, where he acts creepy and gross.
And when she slams her door on him, he forcefully opens it, screams at her viciously for ignoring his advances and frankly, I feel the cops should have been called because this was exhibit A in his sexual assault trial that happened in my head. It was creepy as hell.
Brown: You know that moment in college where you do the “look to your left, now your right. One of these people will commit rape.” That’s Tony Manero.
Froemming: Tony Manero is every red flag personified.
Brown: Take it from me, Tony. She’s not into you. Move on. Only, he doesn’t because this was the early ‘80s. Ted Bundy was on trial and clearly our “hero” took some pointers. If we had seen Tony driving a Volkswagen, I would have shut off the movie.
But because the movie demands it, Tony and Laura have another moment together after Tony auditions for another Broadway show. He once again fails to acknowledge how personal space works and they start kissing in the hallway.
Froemming: At least he wasn’t randomly touching her face with his hands like in “Face/Off.”
Brown: I was going to bring this up later, but now seems as good a time as any.
Have we ever watched a Travolta movie where he plays a redeemable human being?
Froemming: No. And we watched “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble,” which is saying a lot in how he approaches his roles.
Brown: For fun, let’s run through them all.
“Saturday Night Fever”: Nope.
“Grease”: He refuses to date a woman until she conforms to what he likes. So no.
“Urban Cowboy”: LOL.
“Staying Alive”: All signs point to no.
“Face/Off”: I mean, half of the movie he’s a hard-boiled cop who ignores his family. The other half, he’s Nicolas (REDACTED) Cage. So, no.
“Swordfish”: No, based solely on his hair.
“The Punisher”: See “Swordfish.”
“Be Cool”: I legit don’t remember anything about that movie. For making us sit through that, no.
“Wild Hogs”: See “Be Cool.”
Man, John Travolta sucks. And we suck for watching that much John Travolta.
Froemming: I’ll chalk up that outburst to the Nyquil.
So, we get a montage of Tony and Laura canoodling around New York (Stallone loves his montages, it is easier than writing dialogue I guess) and Tony ends up in bed with her.
And he flies off the handle with her when she is done with him, because she saw it as casual sex and he wants to dominate her life with anger, obsession and guilt. But she isn’t for this at all, because she is a sane person and was lucky to see this side of him early on, so she can avoid him like I avoid seeing people I went to high school with at stores when I visit home.
What does Tony do? HE WALKS TO A PAYPHONE AND CALLS JACKIE TO MAKE SURE SHE ISN’T IN BED WITH ANOTHER MAN.
This…this is the hero of this movie? He is a (REDACTED) monster.
Brown: That’s Tony’s version of the DENNIS System, isn’t it?
T: Talk down to the woman.
O: Oggle every chance you get.
N: Nurture dependence.
Y: Yell about every little thing.
Froemming: Yes. The difference being Dennis knows he is a monster. The audience knows he is a monster. This movie sets Tony up as a hero. Like we are supposed to be rooting for him. I don’t know how punchdrunk Stallone was at this point in life, but it is like making Ivan Drago the hero of “Rocky IV.”
Brown: Tony Manero is Disco Bundy. There’s no other way around it, man.
Bringing up “Rocky IV,” I’d love to see a side-by-side viewing of that movie and “Staying Alive,” because I swear they’re paced the same. Sly fills the movie up with so many montages and action set pieces (with Satan’s Alley) that there’s, what, 30 minutes of actual plot? It is the EXACT. SAME. THING. He did as director of “Rocky IV.” Look, it works for boxing movies. Not with this.
Froemming: This is one of the few movies we have watched where I didn’t understand the point of it. This movie goes nowhere, we follow some sociopath in his adventures in traumatizing the women around him and end up with a dance show that looked like it was from “Flash Gordon.”
This movie was written by Sylvester Stallone with an uncredited assistance from Cocaine.
So, we see Tony get jealous and like Mac from “Sunny,” he is trying to play both sides with Jackie and Laura, only Laura wants no part of this game.
Brown: Hey Froemming, that’s a great point. But you explained a lot of plot, so we need a MONTAGE!
Froemming: The best part of these montages is that it looks like the dancers are not choreographed as a tight unit, they are all just flailing away to their own beat and moves. But I don’t understand dance: It is like art, I don’t really believe in it and find it suspicious.
So Tony goes to this club where Jackie and Frank Stallone play music (filmed at CBGB, so suck on that punk rockers!) and we see him get jealous when Jackie is singing. With Frank Stallone. He is jealous of Frank Stallone. Frank Stallone. Let that just settle in your mind, folks.
He asks her to meet with him, but he heads to Laura’s place, where she is entertaining an old rich man.
So obviously, Tony throws a fit like a (REDACTED) child. And doesn’t show up to meet Jackie, who is standing alone on the Mean Streets of Manhattan at 2 a.m. outside CBGB in the 1980s. Yeah, real classy there, buddy.
Brown: And as a giant (REDACTED) you to anyone who liked “Saturday Night Fever,” Tony pulls out the iconic outfit he wore in that movie… only to show up to Laura’s party looking like a Don Johnson cosplayer with a pastel blue undershirt.
It’s here that we’re reminded, YET AGAIN, that Laura is in no way into Tony.
Tony, bubby, it’s foldin’ time. But don’t take it from me. Take it from Lord Humongous.
Froemming: Tony doesn’t understand the word “no,” which is why he is so problematic.
So Tony tries out and is in this Broadway show with Jackie and Laura, and we get a few more montages for the hell of it of the director looking distraught at how horrible these dancers are. To be fair, this director, with his beard, shaggy hair and brown coat with a scarf is what I believe to be the first modern-day hipster, and I wished nothing but the worst for him.
Now let’s get to Tony being rejected by Jackie, because she is fed up with his nonsense and tells him they can only be friends. And the fact he is shocked his abuse lead to this tells you all you need to know about this man.
So what does he do? He walks from Manhattan to Brooklyn, which according to Google is a solid three-hour journey.
He walks past his old disco, which is dead because baseball fans in Chicago had enough of that nonsense. He walks to his parents home, and it is a new house. Which means one of them got a job since the first movie, because nobody in the family worked in that one.
And he has a heart-to-heart with his mother, who tells him his asshole personality is his strong suit, it is what made him what he is today: A background dancer in a Broadway show living in a old motel who also screams into telephones because he doesn’t understand how technology works.
Brown: Mom, you want the best for your son, right? You want him to lead a happy, lawful life where Tony doesn’t eventually lure women into a makeshift dungeon and finds a woman to make him happy (and not as a head in a refrigerator)? QUIT ENABLING TONY! He is an asshole. And you’re giving him the permission structure to continue.
If this movie took place in the ‘70s, I’d be convinced that Tony Manero was the Son of Sam.
I think we’re due for ANOTHER MONTAGE!
Now, let’s get to rehearsals for Satan’s Alley. Because OH BOY, there’s a lot to digest there.
First, I have to mention that all of Tony’s dance moves are like Mac’s in “The Nightman Cometh.” Hell, all the dance moves look like Mac. This whole thing may as well be the Happy, Non-Offensive, Non-Denominational Christmas Play (with music and lyrics from New York minimalist composer Philip Glass) from “South Park.
During rehearsals, it looks like the male lead can’t perform the way the director wants. So, Tony sees this as a moment to attack and take the lead. And how does he prepare? By asking Jackie, who has been victimized over and over by Tony, for a favor.
Jackie, please. You seem like a nice lady. You’re cute and I’d love to get a coffee with you and talk about how your career is starting to get off the ground floor. Please, cut this cancer named Tony out of your life.
Froemming: Nope! She helps him, all right. But she shows up late and with Frank Stallone, who is probably there to make sure Tony doesn’t make a suit out of her skin. And Tony get jealous. Again. Of Frank Stallone. Frank Stallone.
So they practice. And afterward, he follows Jackie home because he is unhinged. And she decides to give him another chance.
I just don’t get it. He is history’s greatest monster after Jimmy Carter.
Brown: Did you know the song we hear over and over, “Far From Over” by Frank Stallone, reached No. 10 in the Billboard Hot 100?
Froemming: Did you know “Far From Over” was what I yelled every time I checked how much was left of this movie?
Brown: I don’t blame you whatsoever. The music of Survivor is a better montage soundtrack than Frank Stallone.
Speaking of… MONTAGE TIME!
Brown: With the love of a good (and emotionally abused) woman by his side, Tony builds the courage to take someone else’s spot in Satan’s Alley. And Tony has that “It” factor that the director is looking for.
Froemming: By “It,” we mean the charming antics and personality of Theodore Robert Bundy, right?
There’s more training with Tony as the lead. But because there’s only so many “Staying Alive” clips on YouTube, we’ll use a “Rocky IV” montage here.
The day is FINALLY here. It’s time for Devil’s Alley to make its big Broadway debut. And it’s… something right out of a fever dream.
Froemming: Does Devil’s Alley have this song in it?
Brown: Oh, I wish. I watch these movies with the closed caption and all I saw for lyrics was “Fire” and “Dance.” All to the tune of ‘80s butt rock.
It all looks like an S&M nightmare with Tony looking like he just escaped the Planet of the Apes.
Serious question: Did this show actually take place on Broadway or at a community college? Because I feel like it was the latter. I have very little notes on this whole sequence because A. I was still NyQuil drowsy and B. It has to be seen to be comprehended.
Froemming: It is straight out of a crappy ‘80s hair metal video, down to the S&M and a welder blowing sparks all over.
Brown: It has a strong resemblance to Motley Crue’s “Looks That Kill” music video. And honestly, the way Stallone directs, he probably would have been better off as a music video director. After all, what is a music video other than a four-minute montage?
Froemming: Well, here is Stallone’s reasoning:
Now, I would think that because of all the stuff going on, that straying from the dance routine would be dangerously lethal. But Tony proves my thesis wrong, because he just starts flailing like that fish from Faith No More’s “Epic” video, making it up as he is going along.
This whole production looked like it cost literally hundreds of dollars, so to go off script seems a little — stupid. But the director only gets mad when Tony kisses Laura. Not Jackie, who has to see the guy she has given his 100th chance to and just watched him smooch another woman he has cheated on her with, but our bearded hipster director who has lost control of his star.
Brown: Jackie, I know I told you to walk away before. Now, let me be more crass with you.
So, the show concludes with a bit moment where Tony goes off-script before jumping on a platform and catching Laura for a hoist. You know, just like they did in “Dirty Dancing.” Ugg.
After that performance, Tony and Jackie lock lips and he tells her how he couldn’t do it without her. Laura looks on with a look of forlorning, although her character should have looked indifferent.
And now that he’s made it on Broadway, there’s only one thing to do. STRUT!
No, seriously. That’s how this movie ends.
Froemming: Well, the shot of Tony freezes, and like many have pointed out, he just vanishes. And the credits roll. I am guessing this is also how a lot of L. Ron Hubbard books end as well.
Brown: And to end this review on a high note, here’s one of my favorite tweets of all time.
So what do you say, Froemming? Should we strut over to recommendations?
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Oh no. This was terrible. I liked “Saturday Night Fever,” but who needed a follow-up? I don’t know what is more embarrassing to Stallone: This movie or “Rambo III” where he helps the Taliban.
Brown: Of course not. Not even a NyQuil daze made this entertaining. And I’ve seen enough of Travolta playing (REDACTED) characters.