You want lame? Lame costs.
By Jared Peterson
I look forward to the release, in the not-too distant future, of the parody movie about parody movies. Not Another Parody Movie, they’ll call it, and it will make fun of itself making fun of itself making fun of others. Maybe Charlie Kauffman could direct. In the meantime it’s yet another parody movie. Dance Flick takes the “dance of the star-crossed lovers” genre and runs it through a ringer of potty-mouthed, post-PC attitude.
You know the drill. Damon Wayans, Jr., is Tom Uncles (because why be subtle?), our hip-hop Romeo, raised on The Streets but walking that fine line between the thug life of his inner city ‘hood and the fab life of a Fame-style performing-arts school. Luckily, the gangsters he hangs with dance, too. They gather at boisterous hip-hop dance-offs—which exist, I guess—ready to serve or be served in winner-take-all battles for big bucks and respect. The rival crews pop and lock and bust moves right through the floorboards—think funky-fresh Tom and Jerry. Enter dewy, doe-eyed Megan White (Shoshana Bush), straight outta The Suburbs. Freshly orphaned but spunky as ever, she’s determined to tackle the big city and be a real dancer. Against no odds whatsoever, the two come together and forge romance and common ground—so the story has gone, in film after sweaty film, and it is most certainly played out.
The Wayans family, now nearing platoon strength (I counted nine in the credits), has been in the lampoon business going on three decades, and they know a thing or two about taboo-busting satire. The next generation, represented by actor Damon Wayans, Jr., and director Damien Dante Wayans (nephew of Keenan), has its turn now, and their plan is shock and awe. Clinging to the shrinking swaths of pre-racial America, they play with all the boilerplate stereotypes, up to and including the one about toying with white folks’ fears about seeming racist, which Tom’s sister Charity (Essence Atkins) has great fun with at Megan’s expense. The Wayans crew lays it on thick, and the stuff audiences don’t, or won’t, or can’t laugh at might make them groan, or recoil, or shake their heads in shame. The flick is an equal-opportunity offender, to be certain, but it was hard to get on board for a throwaway bit that had Bush’s Megan and impromptu makeover complete with blackface. (Too soon? Uh, maybe.)
The crop of earnest, cross-cultural dance stories is wide and rich, but, as is their right, the director and the four brothers (Keenan, Shawn, Marlon and Craig) who share the writing credit pick and choose as they please. They skip Dirty Dancing all together, but gather a few choice nuggets from Fame, staging a tamely irreverent parody number in which a boy’s celebration of his sexual orientation—“Baby, remember I’m gay!”—erupts from the cafeteria onto city streets filled with inexplicably talented and flamboyantly progressive crowds. They zero in on the hip-hop films, Save the Last Dance, Step Up, You Got Served—I know I’m forgetting some others—all the better to stay within their wheel house of in-your-face racial satire. But even this won’t fill the allotted eighty minutes of screen time, so they pad the proceedings with flailing swipes at stray pop culture phenomena like Ray and Twilight and flat one-liners about embarrassing celebrity faux-pas from Jessica Simpson and Starr Jones.
Dance Flick has a really dirty mind—in good fun or not, it is unwaveringly crass and more than a little gross. The boys who will be boys find plenty of ways to bust open the door between bedroom and bathroom humor. Double entendre is pervasive, regularly passing into just plain entendre, and there are frank and casual references to most of the better-known brands and styles of sexual activity. Though the naughty bits remain covered—some just barely—there’s nothing approaching modesty or restraint here, and several of the visual jokes rely on disgusting exaggerations of body parts and bodily functions, the specifics of which I simply can’t bring myself to come up with euphemisms for. And in an increasingly absurd turn of events, Charity’s god-awful parenting skills subject her infant son to a series of cringe-inducing indignities.
The dance theme opens the slapstick gates wide, allowing for cartoon-style contortions and gasp-worthy blindsides. Someone is struck by lightning, another loses a leg, and comic mileage is dragged out of an extended car wreck scene. There’s teenaged drinking, made possible by fake IDs; one bit involves some very lubricated driving. Many of the characters accessorize with handguns (even the infant packs a piece) and while I don’t recall any of them being discharged, they’re surely an efficient way to get someone to come around to your point of view. The swearing runs the gamut from A to SOB but steers clear of the f-word. The n-word is exchanged a couple of times, in its more genial “dude” form—jarring nonetheless.
Still, I’m not too proud to admit that I laughed a bit at Dance Flick. Most send-up films amount to elaborately-staged stand-up, a series of loosely connected vignettes providing a framework for a string of winking comments and off-color bits. They throw a couple hundred jokes in the air and see what sticks. If you can get in touch with your inner juvenile prankster, or accompany one of your own, you too might catch yourself snickering or guffawing along.
Previews at press screenings are limited. I can tell you that the trailer for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a busy and loud affair, with appealing actors running and yelling and giant robots demolishing stuff someone spent an awfully long time putting together. I guess we can’t have nice things.
Jared Peterson wrizzles about fizzle and pop-cultcharizzle for Chesapeake Family. He most recently rizzled Star Trek.