Dir: Damien Dante Wayans. US. 2009. 83 mins.
While there’s certainly ample comedic sport to be had at the expense of the recent glut of overly melodramatic teen dance dramas, Dance Flick rarely stays on the beat, flailing around in several directions trying to find its rhythm.
Produced by the Wayans family, the close-knit kin of African American comedians also responsible for the first two Scary Movie entries, this spoof has its moments, but the predictably scattershot approach of blatant pop-culture referencing and dopey humour makes even the film’s brief 83-minute running time seem excessive.
Dance Flick will cater to comedy-spoof fans who want an escape from the much-hyped, higher-profile Terminator Salvation and the Night At The Museum sequel. This Paramount counter-programmer will rely on audience familiarity with both the Wayans family’s earlier work and the dance films being parodied (such as Hairspray and Step Up). Still, even if Dance Flick ends up having two left feet on the theatrical side, the film should settle into a nice groove in ancillary markets.
A Romeo And Juliet-style romance develops between two urban high school students – black street thug Thomas (Damon Wayans Jr.) and beautiful white outsider Megan (Shoshana Bush) – over a shared love of dance. But their budding relationship is threatened by a dangerous (and morbidly overweight) gangster (David Alan Grier) and a rival dance crew.
Dance Flick comes from the Wayans family, who first found fame in the early 1990s with writer-director-actor Keenen Ivory Wayans’ television sketch comedy show In Living Color. In the nearly two decades since, the brothers and cousins in the Wayans clan have largely stuck to the same brand of broad humour that playfully targets prominent pop-culture fixtures.
Making his feature debut, director Damien Dante Wayans (nephew of Keenen) doesn’t demonstrate much of a visual eye, and he and his four co-writers (all members of the Wayans family) rarely go for jokes wittier than calling an oil company Cheney.
Though it’s some consolation that Dance Flick tends to stay away from cheap scatological humour, the film’s desperate riffing on elements of Save The Last Dance, the Step Up series and any other movie the Wayans family can drag out eventually feels exhausting rather than exhilarating. Also, when Dance Flick does hit upon a particularly juicy subject for parody – such as Jennifer Hudson’s star-making performance of And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going from Dreamgirls – the movie fails to attack its target with much zest.
Dance Flick’s romantic leads don’t help matters since they are two of the weaker performers in the cast. As the sensitive street kid Thomas, Damon Wayans Jr. looks eerily like his writer-actor father, but he doesn’t possess his dad’s sharp comedic timing. And Shoshona Bush, who’s essentially channeling Julia Stiles’ would-be ballerina character from Save The Last Dance, seems hemmed in by the elaborate impression she’s doing.
Consequently, most of Dance Flick’s funniest stretches belong to the supporting cast. Essence Atkins generates consistent laughs as a streetwise teen mother who’s reliably clueless at every turn. And as an unrepentant gangster trying to lure buddy Thomas down the wrong path, Affion Crockett cleverly embodies the character’s hard-knock-life clichés while simultaneously satirising them.
Choreographer Dave Scott, who worked on Step Up 2 and You Got Served, comes up with several solid hip-hop dance sequences, but Dance Flick is more interested in goofing on their muscular gracefulness than enjoying the skill that went into them.
Wayans Brothers Entertainment
Keenen Ivory Wayans
Keenen Ivory Wayans
Damien Dante Wayans
Damon Wayans Jr.