Xanadu ★★★½

What manner of coke-fueled disco fuckery is this?

I don't think I can craft a coherent, focused review of this movie. Mainly because this is not a coherent, focused movie. It is an unfocused, off-the-rails, disco era odyssey involving animation, ELO, Gene Kelly, neon, effects that feel like a warm-up for "Tron", and roller-skating. Oh, so much roller-skating. It's a bag of cats tossed onto a Tilt-a-Whirl. There's so much WTF in this movie that it's frankly kind of amazing.

Michael Beck plays a whiny artiste who complains about having to work at a record company painting larger versions of album covers that someone else designed. He doesn't do much actual work, and I'm not sure why his former boss has hired him back since he seems only to complain and work on the same album cover painting for a week straight. But God forbid you actually ask him when it will be finished, because that's stifling his creativity, Man! Anyways, one day Olivia Newton John kisses him in the park and his mind is blown. (This is 1980 Olivia Newton John we're talking about, so this seems a reasonable reaction.) While searching for her he finds Gene Kelly playing a clarinet on a large rock. The two become fast friends, and Beck doesn't even seem to bat an eyelash when he finds a picture of Olivia Newton John from the 1940s looking exactly the same. Kelly used to love her, and doesn't seem too perplexed when she roller-skates into his life in love with Michael Beck. It turns out Olivia Newton John is a muse, sent to inspire Beck and Kelly to turn an old auditorium into a roller disco.

No, I'm not kidding.

At that point, the movie tries to pass itself off as a romance between a normal dude and an honest-to-God muse from Greek mythology. Which is unconvincing because Michael Beck isn't the most charismatic of leading men. I mean, he's not atrocious. He's certainly better than I recalled him being, but Gene Kelly blows him off the screen.

Even at the age of 68 (which he definitely doesn't look) Gene Kelly has more charisma and better dance moves than the rest of the cast combined. This movie is a hot mess, but it's worth its existence to see Gene Kelly having so much fun in his old age. He's honestly terrific here, the man hasn't lost that twinkle in his eye or the spring in his step, and he puts everyone else onscreen to shame.

"Xanadu's" central thesis is that the 1980s are going to be the 1940s fused with the 1970s, which...shit, maybe it's onto something.

This movie was produced by Joel Silver!

Look, I'll grant you that this is an unfocused collage of insanity that never quite gels. You liked when Olivia Newton John changed her entire style in "Grease"? Well at the end of "Xanadu" she changes styles at least six times! The movie combines roller skating and neon with 1940s Zoot Suits and swing dancing and a performance by the Tubes and a soundtrack of equal parts Olivia Newton John jams and Electric Light Orchestra tunes (all of which are actually quite good), with a brief animated sequence courtesy of Don Bluth (my toddler son bounced up and down on the couch during this scene and exclaimed that "Xanadu turned into a fish!"). I'm not entirely convinced that the final half hour of this movie isn't just a crazy fever dream that Micheal Beck's character is experiencing after roller-skating into a groovy mural. It makes a lot more sense as a vision he's having as all of his synapses fire one last time, just before he drifts off into oblivion. I mean, that's my interpretation of it.

Whatever the hell this is, I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy every ridiculous minute of it. None of this shit works together, none of it gels into a cohesive whole, but the gonzo energy with which it has all been thrown against the wall brought me glee. My kids absolutely loved it too. My wife, on the other hand, could not take it and had to leave the room at regular intervals. Whenever she returned, the movie had skidded even further off the rails and she could only shake her head and leave again, hoping the glitches would resolve themselves by the next time she checked in.

Spoiler Alert: they didn't.

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