Xanadu (1980) / Fantasy-Musical
MPAA Rated: PG for mild language
Running Time: 93 min.
Cast: Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly, Michael Beck, James Sloyan, Dimitra Arliss, Katie Hanley, Fred McCaren, Sandahl Bergman, The Tubes, Adolfo Quinones (cameo), Joe Mantegna (cameo)
Director: Robert Greenwald
Screenplay: Richard Christian Danus, Marc Reid Rubel
Review published June 16, 2000
Out of all the reviews you will find on my site, Xanadu is perhaps the film I feel the most guilty for liking. It would be so easy to slam it as a terrible film like so many others do, and nobody would probably question it. Yet, I must take the road less traveled as a movie reviewer here because, in truth, Xanadu is one of those films that, despite all of the naysayers and evidence of a bad movie against it, still manages to work its magic on me. The reasons as to why still elude me to this day. I have never really been a fan of Olivia Newton-John (Grease, Two of a Kind), neither as a singer nor an actress, I don't like to roller skate, and I'm not particularly fond of musicals. And, in case you are wondering, I am an adult heterosexual man -- definitely not the demographic that is generally thought of when examining those who might like this film. Yet, every time I view it, I never fail to be thoroughly captivated and entertained.
Xanadu's storyline involves the nine muses of Ancient Greece, which happen to come to life when a struggling commercial artist (Beck, The Warriors) rips up one of his personal works, as it is their duty to inspire. One of the nine, calling herself Kira, mesmerizes the young artist, inspiring him to join forces with a wealthy entrepreneur (Kelly, Singin in the Rain) whom she may have inspired 40 years before) to start their own disco club called Xanadu. But she wasn't supposed to fall in love, and now she is in jeopardy of displeasing her father, Zeus.
In my humble opinion, Xanadu is quite possibly one of the most underrated and overly-maligned of the films to stem from the disco era. Critics at the time had little caring for disco and pop, Olivia Newton-John, roller skates, or ELO (who contribute several hit songs to the soundtrack), so it's no wonder this film was destined to be a critical DOA. This barely-recognizable remake of Down to Earth may have rattled critics' cages, but to those who aren't looking for Singin' in the Rain caliber music or acting might be surprised at how well done the music pieces are and how audacious the creators of this film are to pull out all stops, trying their hardest to knock the socks off of any and all viewers.
Admittedly, the film does suffer from a weak leading man in Beck, who has the looks but not much of acting ability required for the role, plus a shoddy script that never rises above the level of workable. However, the real draw for Xanadu comes from the fantastic musical set pieces, with Gene Kelly still amazing after all these years in this his final musical. I do realize that it's a little corny and trite, playing more like a 90 minute Mentos commercial than a motion picture, but the film is just plain fun, pleasant, gutsy and if you are on the right wavelength, will fill you with a sense of inspiration and magic as well. If you have even an ounce of the sappy romantic in you, I wholeheartedly recommend Xanadu. Just remember to wear shades and ask for the brown bag at the video store.
©2000 Vince Leo