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John Travolta: Stayin' Alive

It tells in the ways he used his walk — he’s a movie man

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Somehow, John Travolta has kept his honor as an actor through 19 years of bombs, comebacks, and oddities. Cast as a brooding stud goombah in film after film, he never winks to let you know those parts are just an act. Instead, he lets the better roles make the point.

The Good

*The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976) A stricken teen trapped in a polyurethane isolation tent. That’s a potent metaphor for adolescence, which may be why this made-for-TV movie was a rite of passage for an awful lot of us. B

*Carrie (1976) Cast as one of Sissy Spacek’s tormentors, Travolta revealed the grinning bully behind Welcome Back, Kotter‘s Vinnie Barbarino. B+

*Saturday Night Fever (1977) ”Hey, Tony, kin I wipe off ya forehead?” You’ll find disco records and polyester suits at a yard sale these days, but the actor’s portrayal of a cocky, insecure dancin’ fool is still on the money. A

*Grease (1978) Tony Manero reduced to a neon-bright cartoon, in a movie that once played like ’50s nostalgia at its most joyous, canned, and calorie-free. Now, of course, it plays like ’70s nostalgia. C+

*Urban Cowboy (1980) Travolta as a sensitive lout (in Texas this time) was starting to look like typecasting, but it’s another deft portrait of a young man outgrowing his own sullen ego. B

*Blow Out (1981) A movie sound recordist inadvertently tapes an assassination, and the Hitchcockian games begin. DePalma’s best movie — it’s the only one in which he fully owns up to his pessimism — and Travolta’s darkest. A-

*Look Who’s Talking (1989) A bland romance with a cutesy gimmick (talking babies!), this wouldn’t have flown without three lighter-than-air talents named Travolta, Alley, and Willis. B

*Look Who’s Talking Now (1993) Despite the chatty mutts, this second sequel belongs to Travolta and Alley, who treat their on-screen marriage like a comfy old bathrobe. B-

The Bad

*Moment by Moment (1978) Travolta is ”Strip,” a drifter who falls for look-alike Lily Tomlin in the romance that almost strangled his career in the cradle. So bad it never even made it to video. F

*Staying Alive (1983) This Stallone-directed sequel to Fever missed the zeitgeist boat; instead, it was just about some schmuck. Travolta’s not bad, but the climactic Broadway show, Satan’s Alley, stinks up the room. D

*Two of a Kind (1983) The Grease stars reteamed for an unwatchably stupid romantic fantasy that embalms everything bad about early-’80s movies (up to and including the new-wave sunglasses). F

*Perfect (1985) Wanna watch Travolta and Jamie Lee Curtis endlessly gyrate their groins in a leering aerobics drama? And Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner can’t even play himself convincingly. D+

*The Experts (1989) A wan two-knuckleheads Cold War comedy that barely got released, it served notice that Travolta’s career was in serious trouble. D+

*Chains of Gold (1990) Travolta meets Joey Lawrence — is this the Battle of the Teen Dreamboats? Nah, it’s a gritty, made-for-cable bummer about a social worker (Travolta) who rescues a kid from crack-factory hell. C

*Look Who’s Talking Too (1990) Some infant formula: Add Roseanne Barr, subtract mirth and charm, pad with lame musical montages. The film equivalent of colic. F

*Shout (1991) Travolta is an on-the-run music teacher who brings rock & roll to a boys’ reformatory in 1955. Clichéd and illogical, no mean feat. D+

The Weird

*The Devil’s Rain (1975) A lysergic little devil-cult movie that stars Ernest Borgnine, William Shatner, Ida Lupino, Tom Skerritt, and some kid named Travolta in a monk’s robe (you can just about see his chin dimple). B-

*The Dumb Waiter (1987) Nice cockney accent, but he’s out of his element in this Robert Altman-directed TV movie of the Harold Pinter play. Costar Tom Conti steals it. C

*Eyes of an Angel (1991) A dour hash, this sets the star on the run from gangsters, with daughter and dog in tow. Half American Heart, half The Incredible Journey, all bizarre. C-