If living with vanity projects is a sin, then let me be guilty. My beloved VIVA KNIEVEL makes a strong attempt at being The Template for vanity projects—it's constructed around its real-life protagonist being the greatest guy, sort of a proto-Jesus figure who ramps motorcycles over flaming cars. Then, when he's done doing that, he's enriching the lives of crippled children with his mere presence. CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC can't reach VIVA KNIEVEL's delusional heights of self-love, but this pseudo bio-pic of the Village People has plenty of disasterpiece charm to spare.
From our modern perches, we can look back and be confused and entertained that their contemporaries could overlook the sea of homoerotica that engulfed the Village People's entire, like, lives. But CAN'T STOP can't stop repressing its sodomiting (sort of). It's suggested, brutally and blatantly. But the overt romance only happens between boys and girls. It's not as strangled and stifled as some David DeCoteau films, but there is a weird appeal in seeing an obviously gay boy sexily dancing with a girl while looking like he might vomit all over the disco at any moment. Vaginas are like Kryptonite in this movie.
Record store clerk Jack Morrell (Steve Guttenberg) ditches his job and dreams of songwriting stardom and cans of Dr. Pepper. But, first, he must assemble a group of all-guy singers with the help of his platonic retired-model woman friend Samantha (Valerie Perrine). Coincidentally, they find a bunch of dudes in various occupational sectors—construction worker, cop, cowboy, Indian—and embark on a trip to stardom. *Note that the cop in this movie is not the original Village People cop.
For a movie that's about the Village People, CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC is remarkably concerned with lots of characters who are not the Village People. We get a glut of scenes orbiting around Samantha's romance with uptight square Bruce Jenner and that's fine because Valerie Perrine is cute and fun in a P.J. Soles way. There's just a lot of this irrelevant material.
Perrine was a good choice for the safe lady friend and the movie utilizes her in all kinds of strange, interesting ways, like when she gets dolled up to seduce a record exec and gets shot through cheesecloth painted with Vaseline.
Meanwhile, people with more unfortunate heavy makeup are shot without gaussian blur, which makes me think that director Nancy (Rosie the Paper Towel Lady) Walker didn't really know what she was doing. There are definitely odd choices here. Samantha's eternal and flavor-changing ice cream cone is a good example. So is this:
But perhaps the weirdest thing in this very weird movie is Steve Guttenberg. STEVE GUTTENBERG!!!
Guttenberg's performance is enthusiastic to the max, like he's been threatened with a gun and given an imperative like "Affirm life!" or "Entertain!" In early scenes, he's bounding down New York streets on roller skates. As the film proceeds, his performance gets a little less hyper and, to be fair, Perrine is also super-smiley throughout the film. But I can't help but think that Guttenberg really regarded this as his big break and let his excitement seep into his acting. If a three part Steve Guttenberg biopic ended with a disappointed Guttenberg looking at the box office receipts for CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC and then his agent calls and he says, "I'm not interested, I don't think this acting thing is for me" and the agent says, "But I have this great script, it's called POLICE ACADEMY!", then it would make me feel like this:
Yes. CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC has its appeal. Some of the songs are really good and not just the Village People standards. If you don't love "Magic Night", you're an all-time loser, case closed. Scab Cop is a good lead singer and a lot of the songs are well-composed.
And the atmosphere of repression gives the film a really weird feel, with all kinds of lurid hints sandwiched between these inane unfunny Lifetime-style comedic scenes. Gay comedy as represented by this film is pretty much the same stuff that your aunt would find hilar. It's pretty far away from the John Waters world that you and I might prefer.
Really, the YMCA stuff should have been the film's climax. Anything else is illogical, and yet we get much more film following. CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC, a movie about disco (which rarely had songs of impressive length), lasts for over two hours. Sheer insanity and it really starts to drag by the time you're done.
Like disco itself, CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC consists of a few guilty-pleasure highlights fighting to be heard amidst a gross bloat of disinterest. Worth seeing, though, for its baffling mix of stuff.