Staying Alive (1983) (part 6 of 6)
People are filing into the theater, and it looks to be a full house. In the dressing rooms, the ladies are putting on their makeup and stretching, and Tony is pacing nervously. Five minutes until showtime is called, and techies hustle and bustle.
Jesse shows up to remind Tony to dance for the audience, not himself. Jackie comes in to reassure Tony, and since we’re all in a reassuring vibe, let me reassure you that there’s only 17 minutes left to go. Not a quick 17 minutes, I’ll grant you, but 17 minutes you will never forget. No matter how hard you try.
After cutting to Tony’s mother in the audience briefly, we go to a control room where Jesse will be overseeing the show. The lights go down, and the show begins.
Low chanting and demonic growls are heard, and a spotlight reveals Tony being lowered to the stage on some sort of metal contraption. My guess is this is the descent into hell, or is that what we’ve been watching for the last hour and 16 minutes? By the way, we also get a shot from below Tony’s feet that makes me real damn glad the spotlight is blotting out what would surely be the package shot to end all package shots.
As a drum beat starts up, we see the outfit Tony is wearing, and God help me, if I ever meet Bob Mackie, I’m going to punch him in the mouth for making me look at this. As strobe lights flash, the outfit looks at first to be tattered and dirty. Dancers wail, moving their arms up and down, and I’m fairly certain Jim Morrison must have hallucinated this at some point.
Tony stalks around as dry ice fog fills the stage and red lights shine. An ungodly howl builds, until the lights come on to reveal the main set, and give us a clear view of Tony’s costume, which is a sort of tattered gladiator outfit or something. Given how much screen time his groin has gotten in this film, I’m inclined to just refer to him as Testicules Maximus. Don’t worry, though; I think I can control myself.
He dances as women writhe and claw for him, and the background set is a series of cages full of scantily clad denizens of hell.
Women flip around as Tony’s mother is seen crossing herself. Tony rolls around and finally comes to his feet, while lightning strikes and a lone figure is seen high on top of the set. Through the smoke and lights, we can see it’s Laura in a tight red leotard. Gee, the bad girl of the film playing a devil character? That is… well, kind of predictable and stupid, actually.
There are endless shots of Laura descending, intercut with other dancers, including one guy in an outfit I can’t even begin to describe. Let’s just say the winters have got to be cold for this poor son of a bitch.
By the way, I still have no idea what the plot of Satan’s Alley is supposed to be. Just thought I’d drop that in. I suppose you could call the set an alley, if you considerably broaden your definition of the term.
Laura is finally lowered down to Tony, and the dance routine starts up again. Tony dances some more, ending up with more women writhing around him. And at this point, I have to imagine Travolta requested extra takes on this stuff. Hey, can you blame the guy?
More dancers appear, dressed in what looks like S&M wear designed by someone who just dropped several tabs of acid. Back to Tony and Laura as they dance some more. Tony catches Laura in a position that really makes you hope he washed his hands. Robin Williams would refer to this as the “Who’s your daddy?” position, but I have a little more taste than that.
Okay, so I don’t have that much more taste. What do you want from me? Be glad I didn’t make an OB/GYN joke.
The routine comes to an end, and the audience applauds. Why? It’s beyond me, because there’s no way in hell that what we just saw was anything close to coherent. I’m pretty sure that even the most avant-garde interpretive Broadway productions have some semblance of plot.
As they applaud, Tony takes the chance to kiss Laura full on the lips. Laura is furious, and responds by scratching him deeply, drawing blood. Jesse quickly tells his crew to bring down the lights, while Laura calls Tony a bastard and heads backstage. Does this sort of thing happen a lot during Broadway productions?
Laura tells Jackie to teach Tony some manners, though if he hasn’t learned any by now, I think it’s a lost cause. Backstage, Jackie asks Tony why he kissed Laura, to which he replies it meant nothing. Much like Satan’s Alley itself, come to think of it.
Tony looks at himself in the mirror. As the cast heads out for the second act, Jesse confronts Tony, referring to his routine with Laura as a “personal war”.
So, since we’re dealing with a musical Rocky film here, would Laura be Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang or Ivan Drago? Given her personality, I’m inclined to go with Drago. She doesn’t quite have the charisma of either Carl Weathers or Mr. T. Or a pair of socks.
The second act begins with Laura rising up in front of neon lights, surrounded by dry ice fog. Tony comes towards her in slow motion, revealing that he’s shirtless. Tony is pulled down, and then we cut to Laura in a wide angle. I have no idea what’s going on here, but at least it’s a bit more coherent than the ending of the 1967 Casino Royale. Barely.
Tony and Laura dance in slow motion, and it turns out Tony is clad only in a loincloth. In other news, I just threw up. Another upchuck moment comes as Tony does a total Jean-Claude van Damme-type move, leaping through the air and giving us another look at his “area”.
You know something? I think we may have seen more of John Travolta’s crotch in this 96-minute film than Kelly Preston has in the entire time she’s been married to him.
More slow motion crotch shots ensue, and at this point, it’s just slow motion dancing and… Hell, I don’t know. You really have to see this thing. Words cannot accurately describe just how insane it all is. Maybe the “descent into hell” actually describes what the audience is experiencing, as they desperately try to figure out what’s going on.
There are more slow motion shots, and at this point the endless attention to Travolta’s physique is becoming masturbatory. Get over yourself, Sly. So you got the guy into a gym, big deal. You give any dude the same regimen and he’ll be cut like granite. You’re not the second coming of fitness gurus; you’re a meathead with a voice that sounds like somebody crushed your larynx with a brick.
It’s hard to believe this is the same guy who gave us Rocky and Rambo. I guess it helps if you realize he also gave us Rhinestone.
It goes on and on, until Tony has his arm once again in a very personal location on Laura’s body. And then the act ends to more applause. The audience is going wild for this show, which can only be explained by the popularity of cocaine in New York at the time.
Backstage, Laura apologizes for attacking Tony, and asks if they could get together later. When Tony says no, she replies that he doesn’t have “it”, whatever that’s supposed to mean. It would be one thing if he doubted himself at some point in this movie, and this was an attempt to shake his newfound confidence. But by this point we’ve had to endure over 80 minutes of this ass clown walking around like his shit doesn’t stink.
More chanting starts up as the finale begins. Scantily clad women writhe around with more S&M guys. Laura dances around, and Tony appears in his loin cloth, engaging in a dance fight with the whip-wielding S&M guys. They manage to subdue him and bind him with ropes, and I haven’t felt this uncomfortable in my entire life. Can you imagine an audience anywhere enjoying this?
Tony is drawn towards a huge red backdrop of dancers, which I guess is supposed to represent the gaping maw of hell. Laughter can be heard as Laura approaches, and the way this is shot makes no sense, because the audience in the theater would have no idea what’s going on.
The chanting builds as Tony and Laura lock eyes. Finally, a spotlight shines on him, and electricity sounds are heard. Strobe lights flash, and the denizens of hell are driven back. The music gets triumphant as Tony breaks free, and I feel another overly erotic dance routine coming on. Tony dance-fights some more guys, and at this point even Hulk Hogan would be saying, “Christ, man, let them hit you once, at least!”
More dancing with Laura ensues. Tony twirls her around, and it’s clear he’s going off the reservation when Laura asks him what he’s doing. Tony lets her roll away rather less than gently, and launches into an impromptu number of his own. Jesse is annoyed, as is Laura.
It’s a leaping, whirling, exotic dancing-type thing, and it ends with him leaping on a silvery platform as it rises up. This would be the ascent to heaven, for those few people out there still keeping track of this show’s “plot”.
Tony reaches out to Laura as the platform rises, and suddenly, the whole scene plays out like a thriller. Laura says she can’t jump, and Tony yells at her to try. Jackie is telling her to go for it, and Jesse in the booth is yelling for her to jump, and I have to wonder why the hell we’re supposed to be on the edge of our seats waiting for her to do a simple dance move. I’m pretty sure Stallone got confused here, and thought he was making an action film.
Laura makes the jump, and Tony lifts her up by a leg. He holds her up in such a way that we can see the full effect of all those gym sessions, and then lights and explosions go off and the crowd is brought to its feet, applauding madly as the show ends. As I said earlier, in this world New York City audiences are easier than the cheapest hooker you can find.
Enjoy this clip of the incredible finale of Satan’s Alley.
Sure, it’s impressive, but let’s see him try that move with the fat lady in the Viking helmet from the opera!
Tony’s mother wonders, “Where did he learn to do this?” There’s a close-up of Tony sweating like a pig as the applause continues. Flop sweat? Well, for John Travolta, that’s become almost a second career.
Backstage, champagne is being poured as the cast celebrates. Tony and Jackie move through the group, and evidently Tony needs to get out of there before he explodes. Tony tells Jackie in a meathead sort of way that he never could have done what he did without her. Oh, I don’t know. Seems like he does the whole asshole routine just fine by himself.
Tony and Jackie kiss, with Tony making eye contact with Laura as she passes one more time. Nope, still no clue what’s going on there. Tony heads for the door, and tells Jackie he wants to “strut”. As opposed to what he’s been doing since the beginning of the movie?
Either way, the Bee Gees music kicks in again, but this time it’s one of their hits. Namely, the titular “Stayin’ Alive”. Tony struts down the street like he did in the first film, only this time at night. He struts through Times Square, and lo and behold, we actually have people on the streets. In New York? Get out of town!
He comes toward us and freeze frames, and the freeze frame shows him making the goofiest face you could possibly imagine. Well, it’s not that much goofier than how Travolta generally looks, but you get what I’m trying to say. Tony vanishes, and is replaced by the headlights of the cars as the scene unfreezes briefly before freezing again. Gee, I can’t guess where the editing splice was for that effect. Can you?
The credits roll, and ladies and gentlemen, we are done!
Amazingly enough, this movie grossed around $65 million domestically, meaning that in 1983 people would go to see just about anything. It ended up being nominated for a few Razzies, and a few years back was named by Entertainment Weekly as the worst sequel of all time. Can’t say I disagree. This is truly one of the most hilariously awful films I’ve ever seen.
But in a sick way, Staying Alive is the perfect ’80s sequel. Where the first film had genuine depth of emotion and complex characters, this film has glorified melodrama and shallowness. Substance takes a back seat to style, and where once there was grit, now there’s… Well, you get the idea.
And that’s the show. Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow. Don’t forget to tip your waitress.