Starring: Olivia Newton-John, Michael Beck, Gene Kelly
Director: Robert Greenwald
Running Time: 96 mins
Xanadu is an American film about a struggling artist who meets a mysterious girl, who may hold the keys to success for him.
This is a terrible film. An entirely non-sensical string of events, it’s a confusing and boring watch throughout, worsened by terrible visual effects and horrible set design. Its saving grace? An amazing soundtrack, which makes the handful of musical numbers a joy to watch, as they intersperse an otherwise appallingly bad plot.
Xanadu really is one of those films that – no matter how hard you try – is impossible to fully understand. On the surface, it’s a simple romance, but its screenplay is full of ridiculous non-sequiteur details that throw the whole thing into narrative chaos.
At first, there’s a nice air of mystery as we see Michael Beck chasing after the magical girl of his dreams in Olivia Newton-John. That lasts about twenty minutes, after which point the film descends into an almost meaningless series of events that barely resemble a love story.
Beck and Newton-John have no chemistry together, and there’s barely any reason behind their characters’ sudden feelings for one another. Literally from worlds apart, they seem to fall in love in an instant, with no real explanation, and absolutely no emotional depth.
The romance is meant to form the bedrock of the story, but it’s so thin and preposterous that it’s a waste of time to even bother following. Instead, it works as little more than small, boring vignettes in between the film’s many musical numbers.
If it weren’t for those musical numbers, Xanadu would be an absolute atrocity. Fortunately, however, almost all of the songs are great, some even excellent. In the context of the screenplay, the musical numbers do go on a bit, but because the story is so dull, it’s much nicer to spend the time listening to those songs than anything else.
From a delightful tap dance number in the opening act to a couple of great romantic ballads, and the absolute classic title song to close the film out, the soundtrack here is genuinely excellent, which is so strange to see in an otherwise genuinely awful film.
Saying that, however, where the film shines in song and dance it falls back down with its visuals and production. Xanadu may be 40 years old, but it’s such a badly-made film that it often feels far, far older.
The sets are horribly flimsy, the visual effects are laughably bad (even for the early 80s – Flash Gordon was more convincing!), and it all gives off a rather dingy, dull vibe – particularly as so much of the film is set in an empty, disused nightclub.
Overall, Xanadu really is a terrible film through and through. It’s a shame for Olivia Newton-John, who is delightful, and the soundtrack, which is equally great, but the film is an utter mess from beginning to end.
A painfully non-sensical romance that does little more than fill the gaps between songs, it’s a boring, preposterous and confusing film throughout, only worsened by terrible production values that ruin any chance of genuine entertainment. And that’s why I’m giving Xanadu a 5.1.