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Movie Review: Dance Flick

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Dance Flicks

Director Damien Wayans positively nails the unblinking earnestness and white-bread morality of the Hollywood dance movie in this witty send-up of cheesy sentiment starring Shoshana Bush and Damon Wayans Jr.

Though these are the same people who made White Chicks and Little Man, the good news about Dance Flick, the latest offering from the Wayans dynasty, is that it’s frequently very funny.

It’s not the lines that make it amusing – although there are more than a few great zingers flying gracefully just below the radar – but the pitch.

Director Damien Wayans (My Wife and Kids) positively nails the unblinking earnestness and white-bread morality of the Hollywood dance movie in this witty send-up of cheesy sentiment.

The real beauty of Dance Flick is just how well the spoof elements fuse with the sticky traces of genre, ensuring nothing feels all that forced – which is a small, but fully appreciated, gift to the viewer in movies that limbo down to the lowest common denominator.

Pulling the basics of plot off the shelf, writers Keenen Ivory Wayans, Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Craig Wayans and Damien Wayans cobble together the classic storyline about two dancers trying to make it to the big time.

Megan White (Shoshana Bush) is a fallen ballet dancer trying to make it to Julliard. Thomas Uncles (Damon Wayans Jr.) is a street kid who just wants to dance, but whose socio-economic situation strips the spring from his step and binds his ankles with old ‘hood baggage.

These two young kids may have different dance styles, but they share the same dream of high-stepping on the Great White Way – with an emphasis on “white.”

Race always figures in the Wayans book of comedy. They are one of the few creative teams to really pick up the ball of bigotry and give it a boot in a comic context – in a way that appeals to all demographic sectors.

It’s a relief to be able to laugh at the image of Megan White backpedalling through white guilt as she tries to befriend a group of African-American schoolmates at the cafeteria.

By the same token, watching an overcooked scene of ghetto bonding between two street thugs pulls down the same walls of stereotype with giddy laughter.

By the time we make it to the big showdown, a dance contest that could net the winner $10,000 in cash, the movie’s found such a natural groove through cliche that we can sit back and wait for the magic.

If you’re eager to get all the jokes and visual nods, it helps a lot if you’re familiar with the likes of High School Musical, Fame, Flashdance, Footloose, Step Up, Rize, Dirty Dancing and other diamonds in the genre tiara – but it’s not essential.

The Wayans collective has the comic gift. Half the time, it’s little more than looks on the actors’ faces that trigger a giddy response, because they sell it straight, thus emphasizing the inanity of lines such as, “Dancing is in my heart” and “Let’s kick it, bitch.”

There’s no question the Wayans understand how and why the Hollywood dance movie became a distillation of the American Dream. They see the Busby Berkeley metaphor for self-determination.

They also recognize the underlying social strata that divided the MGM production numbers from minstrel fare, which pulls the musical out of its social closet – in a way – since the form really owes a lot of its history to the contributions of African-American culture.

Dance Flick is a fragrant mix of sweat, bowel and bawdy fun. It also has the depth to touch on larger societal issues, while perfecting the fart joke at the same time.

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