May 21, 2009

Dance Flick

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Dance Flick

COMEDY:

United States, 2009

U.S. Release Date:

2009-05-22

Running Length:

1:23

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Profanity, Sexual Situations)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

1.85:1

Cast:

Shoshana Bush, Damon Wayans Jr., Essence Atkins, Affion Crockett, David Alan Grier, Shawn Wayans, Christina Murphy, Keenan Ivory Wayans

Director:

Damien Dante Wayans

Screenplay:

Keenan Ivory Wayans & Shawn Wayans & Marlon Wayans & Craig Wayans & Damien Dante Wayans

Cinematography:

Mark Irwin

U.S. Distributor:

Paramount Pictures

Subtitles:

none


In the tired world of genre parodies, where Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer have become the "go-to guys," Dance Flick manages the seemingly impossible feat of actually generating some big laughs. It doesn't do much else, but for a movie of this sort, anything beyond forcing a reviewer to look up synonyms for "boring", "pointless", and "unfunny" is an accomplishment. Of course, the lack of any involvement by the Friedberg/Seltzer team has something to do with this. Dance Flick is the product of the Wayans Family (so many of them are involved in one capacity or another that it's unfair to single them out by name), who are relentless in their pursuit of humor, much of which is bawdy, in bad taste, and/or politically incorrect. The film pushes the PG-13 envelope to its breaking point.

Dance Flick is an equal opportunity offender. When it sees a target, it ridicules it - sometimes effectively, more often not. A lot of the jokes don't work and, as is often the case with failed comedy, those duds, which come a little too frequently for comfort, make the viewer feel vaguely embarrassed for those who are involved. But Dance Flick also hits big on more than one occasion. The best bits in this film fall short of being inspired, but they are outrageous. The production as a whole feels very much like a contemporary episode of Saturday Night Live: an uneven collection of loosely connected, variably clever comedy sketches.

Dance Flick doesn't follow a baseline story. Instead, it loosely cobbles together elements from nearly every imaginable dance movie, running the gamut from Fame to Step Up 2 the Streets. If you can think of it, the Wayans probably did as well and there will be something in here. The satirical elements aren't restricted to dance movies. For example, arguably the film's biggest failed gag comes at the expense of Twilight (and occurs right after a not-very-clever nod to Titanic). It's evident that the way this movie was assembled was for the writers to throw out ideas that might be funny without any concern for whether they could be fit into the framework of the movie. That's why Dance Flick feels more like a series of skits than a coherent parody. I was reminded of (of all things) Amazon Women on the Moon, a sketch movie that featured spectacular highs and even more spectacular lows. The same thing occurs here. To the extent that there is a plot, it revolves around a white ex-dancer named Megan (Shoshana Bush) who's a newcomer to Musical High School, and Thomas Uncle (Damon Wayans Jr.), a black hip-hop artist who needs a crew so he can win at The Streets and earn the $5000 he needs to pay back gangster Sugar Bear (David Allen Grier). Sugar Bear is literally larger than life - he looks like a cross between Fat Bastard and Mr. Creosote. Of course, Megan and Thomas hook up and become a team, and Thomas helps Megan overcome her reluctance about dancing.

When it comes to taking no prisoners in satires, the master is Keenan Ivory Wayans, whose I'm Gonna Git You Sucka did for Blaxploitation what Dance Flick tries to do for dance movies, and whose Scary Movie was even more perversely funny and raunchy than Sucka. His input is evident here, as is his influence on his nephew, Damien, who is credited as Dance Flick's director (although, by all accounts, this was a Wayans ensemble effort across the board). Those who remember the TV show In Living Color, which was produced by the Wayans clan, will see some similarities here, although it could be argued that the scattershot Dance Flick is less structured than the television program.

It's tough to apply a standard rating to a movie like Dance Flick because, despite doing what it sets out to do and providing some hearty laughs, it's not a fulfilling 83 minutes. There are times when it drags and, even with such a skinny running time, it feels overlong. Maybe the root of the problem is that genre parodies have been so played out that they no longer carry much interest and, when it comes to dance films, some of the worst exist as self-parodies in their own right. So, if your interest is solely in blowing off 90 minutes and having a few good laughs in the process, Dance Flick exists to scratch an itch. Otherwise, this is better avoided or at least deferred until it has entered into the less demanding home video market.

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