Dance Flick won’t dance its way into your heart
Directed by Damien Dante Wayans
Starring Damon Wayans Jr., Craig Wayans, Shoshana Bush, Essence Atkins
Nowhere near as hilarious as Airplane! or The Naked Gun yet not as unwatchable as Disaster Movie and Meet the Spartans, Dance Flick falls squarely in the middle of the spoof movie spectrum. That puts it more or less on par with the first Scary Movie, the surprise box-office smash that pulled the extended Wayans family out of the collective creative funk they had been in since the end of In Living Color. (Unless you consider movies like Damon’s Blankman or Keenan Ivory’s Most Wanted to be misunderstood classics.) Actually, Dance Flick isn’t the product of that generation of Wayans'; while Keenan, Shawn and Marlon are credited as co-writers and producers (in addition to appearing in small roles), the film’s primary creative forces are star Damon Wayans Jr. (son of Damon) and director Damien Dante Wayans (daughter of Nadia, the one family member that doesn’t work in the film industry).
So how do these youngsters compare with their forefathers? To be honest, their senses of humor aren’t all that different. Like Scary Movie, Dance Flick offers a grab-bag of clever jokes (a vending machine that only dispenses bottled Tap Water), stupid jokes (anytime David Alan Grier shows up in a fat suit) and borderline offensive jokes (a mother yells at her baby for contracting an STD). It goes without saying that the plot is beside the point. A loose assemblage of story points taken from teen dance movies like Step Up and Save the Last Dance, the film follows a well-off white girl (Soshana Bush) who moves to the ‘hood after her mother is run over by a trio of reckless celebrity drivers (Britney, Brandy and Halle) and starts attending classes at the aptly named Musical High School. There she befriends sassy single mom Charity (Essence Atkins) and her dorky brother Thomas (Wayans Jr.), whose dance crew is deep in debt to a big-time, big-bellied gangster Sugar Bear (Grier). To pay off their debt, they’ll have to triumph over their arch-rivals at the upcoming dance competition. Will they be able to stomp the year without getting served? Bring it on bitches.
While no one would confuse Dance Flick with great art, it is efficiently directed by Damien Dante Wayans and spiritedly acted by its cast. Wayans Jr. isn’t as versatile a comedian as his father, but his willingness to perform any gag–no matter how ridiculous it makes him look–is a good trait for an aspiring comedy performer to possess. Still, it would be easier to recommend the movie if it weren’t so inconsistent, sometimes aiming for real wit but more often settling for the lowest common denominator. It’s a decent debut for the Wayans family’s next generation, the they’ll have to…ahem, step up their game for their next film if they hope to be around long term.
Verdict: Rent It
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Coming off one of his biggest—and best—films, a four-hour profile of controversial revolutionary Che Guevera, Steven Soderbergh switches gears and delivers a small-scale character study of a high-end call girl played by porn star Sasha Grey. Filmed on the streets and in the luxurious high-rises of Manhattan in October 2008 just as the economy was starting to crumble, The Girlfriend Experience is a captivating portrait of a city in transition. Chelsea (Grey) experiences these changes firsthand as hears her Wall Street clients express their frustations and offer her financial advice. Looking to keep her own business solvent, she agrees to give an influential online porn critic (played by real-life film critic Glenn Kenny) a “free sample” of her talents in the hopes of getting a good review that will expand her client base. Never one to shy away from challenging the audience, Soderbergh scambles the film’s chronology, recounting events out of sequence and building towards a deliberately ambigious ending. It’s the kind of movie that rewards repeat viewings. Beautifully shot by Soderbergh (who, as usual, served as his own director of photography) and well acted by its non-professional cast, The Girlfriend Experience is a minor gem from one of the most consistently interesting filmmakers working today.
Verdict: See It
Directed by Stephen Elliott
Starr Jessica Biel, Colin Firth, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Barnes
Not to be confused with Jessica Biel’s other new movie (i.e. the one where she takes her top off), Easy Virtue casts Justin Timberlake’s significant other as a 1920s-era independent woman from America who marries the boyish son of a wealthy British family. Moving into her husband’s country estate, she instantly clashes with her new in-laws, particularly the class-conscious matriarch (Kristin Scott Thomas) who can’t tolerate her convention-defying ways. This is the second film version made from British author Noel Coward’s 1924 stage play and his famous wit still holds up 80 years on. Unfortunately, director Stephen Elliott can’t seem to get a firm handle on how to stage this material for the screen, relying too heavily on cheeky song cues (like a ragtime version of “You Sexy Thing”) and sitcom-like reaction shots. The ensemble is inconsistent as well; while Thomas is a perfect fit for her role, Colin Firth is largely on autopilot as her estranged husband and the supporting players never demonstrate much in the way of personality. As for Biel, she delivers a solid performance, but is simply too young for a part that’s clearly been written for a woman in her late 30’s rather than late 20’s. Easy Virtue is entirely watchable, but you’d get just as much pleasure from reading the play.
Verdict: Rent It