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Xanadu

Year: 1980
Studio: Universal
Director: Robert Greenwald
Writer: Richard Christian Danus/Marc Reid Rubel
Cast: Olivia Newton-John, Michael Beck, Gene Kelly

Like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, this was another film from the same era and aesthetic that I didn't get around to seeing until decades later. And like Rocky Horror, the years offer enough hindsight to reveal how shoddy and low quality it all is.

Newton-John was never a great actress, but her inclusion in a movie with a lot of pop culture hooks of the time (the iconic outfit, the roller skating) and the music and love story seemed like a safe enough bet for any studio.

Unfortunately (and this was news to me only after looking into it soon after watching – I'd assumed it had been a big hit because of the attention it got at the time), it was given a critical kicking and took a bath at the box office.

Artist Sonny (Michael Beck) is supposed to be a rebellious, unsatisfied romantic as he works in an art studio, instead coming off as a self absorbed and ungrateful tosser as he butts heads with his music recording company boss about having to... you know... work in order to get paid.

But he comes across the beautiful Kira (Newtown John), first on an album cover and secondly when she skates up to him in a park, kisses him and then disappears for no reason, and finds himself inspired.

As Sonny tries to track the mysterious girl down he's drawn to an abandoned roller skating rink and performance arena, and it's there he finds her, skates around, falls in love and hardly questions it when she refuses to talk about herself or where she's from. All we know is that she seems to be some supernatural being put on Earth to give him back his mojo.

Sonny also randomly (and with a complete lack of believability) meets and makes friends with a former Golden Age dancer (Gene Kelly), eventually convincing the wealthy older man to go into business with him turning the rink into a skating club-cum-theatre.

The entire movie is all sickening sweetness and light until then so something has to go wrong, and it does when Kira finds she's being called back to where she's from – the story of her character is as ridiculous as the animated effects that depict her home are tacky. Think of the abrupt third act turn in From Dusk Till Dawn when a road movie crime caper suddenly turned into a vampire apocalypse, only stupid instead of cool.

Beck looks like a cross between a young John Cena and a child molester and – like Greg Harrison from Razorback or Michael Vartan from Rogue – never went anywhere after this. Kelly apparently took the role because the locations were all close to his Beverly Hills home, and Newton-John is far more animated while singing the titular song than speaking the dialogue.

Like All That Jazz, another 35-year-old musical classic I finally watched not long before this, it's all (badly dated) flash and pizzazz and no story.

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