It’s no secret that the film industry folks aren’t exactly the most original bunch of people around. They get a concept that at least seems bankable, and then they run it into the ground the first chance they get. Lately, it’s been this way with the uplifting sports flicks, the torture-porn fad in horror movies, the need to remake every single Japanese ghost story for American audiences and so on and so forth. Heck, they’ve been making the same romantic comedy for a quarter-century now.
So it comes as no surprise—with the surprise popularity of films like You Got Served (2004) and Step Up (2006)—that we should get yet another teen drama revolving around dance. Though in the case of How She Move, the makers have taken a different approach, one in which the very lack of polish manages to set it apart from an already crowded genre. Still, it remains far from a perfect film.
The movie follows Raya (newcomer Rutina Wesley), a teen who—after the death of her sister to drugs—is forced to leave her private school and return to the rough-and-tumble neighborhood of her youth. After seemingly blowing her scholarship test that would have paid for her return to school, Raya attempts to join her friend Bishop’s (Dwain Murphy, who’s only other credit is an episode of Degrassi) step-dance crew so that she can win enough cash to pay for school.
Being a small, independent production, the film fancies itself as a grittier (i.e., it barely has a lighting budget, making the entire film look cheap and grainy) version of Stomp the Yard (2007). And while How She Move is ultimately better than other films in the genre (though that’s not much of an accomplishment), it also suffers from many of the same limitations that plague those same films—doing its gritty, indie claims no favor. For a movie that seems to pride itself on its realism, early on we get a fairly silly scene of an impromptu dance off that replaces fisticuffs. At the same time, the idea that there’s some seedy underbelly to step dancing comes off as goofy, especially when the neighborhood’s evil, sleazy drug dealer (Clé Bennett) has his own dance crew. I don’t care how menacing you are, if you obviously practice dance moves for a good chunk of your day, you automatically lose whatever threat you had to begin with.
There are some attempts at creating realistic, sympathetic characters—something that almost works with the strength of the film’s performances (despite the casting of a bunch of obvious 20-somethings as high-school students)—but TV writer Annmarie Morais’ screenplay becomes mired in melodrama and flimsy character development before you can give a damn. It certainly doesn’t help that the entire thing looks and feels like an after-school special. Even the dance scenes lack any kind of panache, mistaking a whopping two slo-mo shots for actual style. How She Move is a noble attempt at doing something new in an already tired genre, but it’s those things it recycles that ultimately sinks it. Rated PG-13 for some drug content, suggestive material and language.