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XANADU

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 15, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: The PG-rated ‘Xanadu’ has been on DVD before but is now on Blu-ray as well. It’s not the greatest musical ever made but it sure has a following and many fans will be elated to know that this Blu-ray edition is top-notch and enhances the visuals, which are one of the film’s better assets. This is my Deseret News review that was published on Aug. 8, 1980.

“Xanadu” is much like a cream puff without the custard. It’s lovely to look at and the first bite is enticing, but while eating it you begin to realize there’s nothing there — and when it’s gone, you’re still hungry.

There’s so much wrong with this movie it’s almost too easy to shoot it down, and I know my kids will enjoy it anyway.

The first temptation here is to say “Xanadu” has something for everyone, and that’s somewhat correct. But it doesn’t mean there is something here that everyone will like.

The producers have used the “let’s throw in everything but the kitchen sink” approach. I can hear the conversation around the idea table now: “Let’s get an older generation musical star, a dancer — how about Gene Kelly? Then we’ll throw in some 1940s big band music, some old-time hoofing — add it all to this Olivia Newton-John project, with lots of flashing lights, roller disco and pizzazz, and bingo, a movie grandparents can take their grandkids to.”

Newton-John is a muse, one of the nine daughters of Zeus. She is sent to earth to help Michael Beck’s dream come true — a dream of artistic independence, inexplicably satisfied by the prospect of opening a roller-disco nightspot called Xanadu, named after the Coleridge poem.

Kelly is a former big band clarinetist, now a successful building contractor, who still dreams of opening a big nightclub of his own.

The most devastating problems in “Xanadu” have to do with the script and direction in and around the musical numbers. For some reason, everybody seems to spend an inordinate amount of time on roller skates in this picture, but none of the foreground characters know how to skate very well. Compared to the professionals in “Skatetown USA” and “Roller Boogie” last year, these folks look like they’d be off balance in tennis shoes.

     

Michael Beck, left, Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly, 'Xanadu'

Worse, the comedy is never carried out to the extent of its promises and the actors never grasp their roles. This whole movie would have been much better if told from Newton-John’s viewpoint instead of Beck’s.

The funniest scene in the film is a brief moment when Newton-John confesses to Beck who she really is, using an old movie on television to convey the message. It opens the door to wonderful comic possibilities, none of which are ever explored.

As for the musical sequences, the best is easily a scene where The Tubes’ hard rock melds with a big band/Andrews Sisters-type group. It’s unrivaled as the film’s best moment.

On the whole, however, you’d better like the sounds of The Electric Light Orchestra and Olivia Newton-John or you’ll be in trouble.

I enjoy both, particularly Orchestra, though I have a problem with watching Newton-John lip-sync her songs.

    

The music is pleasant, in a syrupy way, and if it were to be compared to other recent rock films, “Xanadu” is easily superior to “Can’t Stop the Music,” “Roadie,” etc.

But I don’t think grandparents — or even parents — will enjoy this as much as the kids.

It’s fun to see Kelly dancing again but the steps aren’t very complicated, obviously to allow Newton-John to keep up, and a high-spirited scene in a garment store is so jagged that it’s easy to see that much of Kelly’s hoofing is still on the cutting room floor. And somebody should have toned down Beck’s hostility in the first half of the movie — he looks like he’s back in “The Warriors” again, ready to kill or maim.

But there’s lots of razzle-dazzle and flash, a fun little Disney-style animated sequence, and the editors have wisely given the music and dance a 60-40 margin over the plot.