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SIFF ADVANCE: 54: The Director's Cut - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
SIFF ADVANCE: 54: The Director's Cut
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+

A "Director's Cut" is always a tricky proposition. In many cases, the intent is to present a director's "vision" that was ruined in some way or another by the studio and/or producers, which historically yields widely varied results. Such is the case with writer-director Mark Christopher's debut feature, 54, screened by the Seattle International Film Festival last night, with Christopher in attendance.

This wasn't the first showing of this cut of the film, although we were told "Harvey Weinstein isn't happy we're showing this." That was at the Berlin Film Festival in February, and now it's making the festival rounds, proudly proclaiming itself a "completely different" film than its 1998 studio release, with all 40 minutes of the studio-mandated re-shoots removed, and roughly half an hour of previously cut footage restored, refocusing the story on the drug-fueled and increasingly bisexual exploits of Shane O'Shea (Ryan Phillippe) and his friends and roommates Greg (Breckin Meyer) and Anita (Salma Hayek). There's even a restored scene featuring a kiss between Phillippe and Meyer that initially scared the studio.

Back in 1998, 54 bombed, and was lambasted by critics; even now, it has a 13% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (averaging 63 reviews) and a Metascore of 33/100 (averaging 20 reviews). And while it's nice to see a version of this film that is unshackled by late-nineties homophobia, it honestly doesn't come across as vastly superior to the original cut. This movie was the result of a surge of late-nineties disco nostalgia, and The Last Days of Disco and its snappy dialogue, released the same year, remains a superior film. Both movies still have great soundtracks, at least.

I don't usually do reviews of re-issues, because usually anything that could be said of the film has long been old news, but 54's "Director's Cut" is being hailed as markedly different from the cut originally released. There are no apparent plans to release this cut theatrically, although there is talk of it being released digitally and on DVD later this year. So should you seek it out? Eh. Maybe.

A good portion of the restored footage was literally found in a basement, making it rather gritty and aged onscreen, which is a little distracting. This includes the footage of the aforementioned kiss, and a fair amount of the depicted club debauchery. In one case we see Ryan Phillippe naked from behind, hooting at his view of the Manhattan skyline. Some of this added footage just feels like an excuse to cram more sex and drugs into the movie, and really, the original cut did a fine job of getting those parts across.

It should be noted, however, that Mike Myers as lecherous club owner Steve Rubell gives arguably the best performance of his career in this movie -- which is clear in either cut of it. He completely disappears in the part, and it's easy to forget what actor you're looking at. If you're looking for hot guys in short shorts, there's plenty of that, but if there's any one acting-related reason to see this movie, it's Myers.

And don't get me wrong, if you have never seen 54, to be sure, this is the version to see. But that alone does not make it a great film. It's a decent one, with a greater depth of story than the 1998 version, but not by a particularly wide margin. It's still just another movie about a kid with dreams of making it big without any actual talent and then getting mired in increasingly dangerous drugs and sexual activities (regardless of its orientation). It's fairly strong for a debut film, and stronger in its new incarnation, but you aren't missing anything vital if you don't bother either. It's the socio-political history of this movie's production that makes it interesting, and worth a look at least for film buffs. Okay, and maybe gay guys with a penchant for tongue wagging at a hot young Ryan Phillippe.

The director's cut still isn't great but Ryan Phillippe remains well preserved in 54: The Director's Cut.

At least Ryan Phillippe remains well preserved.

Overall: B
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