Fight fans, it’s been far too long since we’ve seen the spilling of DVD blood in the octagon. So DVD Battle has returned to fulfill this seminal need for digital carnage. For today’s smackdown: the two latest entries in the “troubled young person finding himself / herself through dance” mold of teen angst films. Now of course, since Flashdance and Footloose way back in the day, this has been a highly underrepresented genre, with only Honey, Save The Last Dances 1 & 2, Center Stage, You Got Served, Stomp the Yard, Step Up and Step Up 2: The Streets…okay, perhaps not so underrepresented after all. Screw it. You know the rules: two discs enter, one disc leaves. The other disc goes the way of Beta and HD-DVD.
|How She Move
Running Time: 91 minutes
|Studio: Warner Home Video
Running Time: 89 minutes
|The Crew: Rutina Wesley, Tre Armstrong, Dwain Murphy, Conrad Coates, Djanet Sears, Melanie Nicholls-King, Alison Sealy-Smith, Kevin Duhaney
||The Crew: Faune Chambers, Angell Conwell, Bryce Wilson, Diana Carreno, Clifton Powel, Tamala Jones, Fredro Starr, Roger E. Mosley|
God, I miss college…
Here you have two stories about the world of stepping, with How She Move taking place in an unspecified Jamaican ghetto of a major US city, and Showstoppers taking place at a Virginia college. HSM is a somewhat grittier, more urban-themed tale of Raya (Wesley), a high school girl of Jamaican descent who has to drop out of the boarding school her parents sent her to because they’ve spent all of their money trying to treat her older sister’s drug addiction, which ultimately proved fatal. SS is a more light-hearted tale of Destiny (Chambers), a sorority step team captain who has to lead her team to a victory in a national competition when her best friend and choreographer defects to a rival team. Kudos to both films for not falling into the genre cliche of having the protagonists being troubled youth who are walking the edge of falling into a life of disrepute. But I mostly attribute that to the two main characters being female. Had Raya or Destiny been young homies, they’d have either just come from jail, been on their way to jail, constantly been threatened with jail, or worked for somebody or been associated with somebody who would have guaranteed them a trip to jail. If they had been young angsty white kids, they’d have to prove to the Black characters that they’re down enough to be worthy of consideration for jail.
The Opening Rounds
HSM shows its street-cred-worthiness early as we see that Raya comes from a tough Jamaican neighborhood, where, believe it or not, people are still living in the Krush Groove universe by rumbling via step battle rather than with knives, guns, or the nearest handily blunt object. Raya’s stuck in a situation where she had managed to escape this neighborhood via boarding school, but now finds herself back and having to dust off her street smarts and step skills on the fly. SS is less concerned with street cred because its tale takes place in a Virginia college and deals with the altogether different world of long-standing Greek step battles. The atmosphere here is more traditional rivalry and pride than using stepping to escape an undesirable situation. Ultimately, the stakes are higher for Raya than they are for Destiny, because if Raya fails, she’s not guaranteed a trip to a good college and a possible downtrodden life in the ghetto. Destiny’s already got the cushy college gig and the worst thing that can happen to her is that she may have to accept the closure of her sorority chapter and transfer to her rival and sorority sister Pam’s step team instead. Life shattering stuff to be sure.
I mean I really miss college…
Raya is a highly intelligent and motivated Jamaican-American teenager who’s dealing with the recent death of her drug-addicted sister, who taught her how to step back in the day. Matching her intellect is a fierce desire to make a better life for herself and be worthy of her immigrant parents’ sacrifices. Added to this is a prime talent for street stepping, which proves to be the equal of any man around her, including her potential love interest, Bishop (Murphy), the leader of his own step crew. She has to live up to not only her own high self expectations, but her parents’, and her peers’, who figure her for a sellout for going to a private school. They also consider her step skills to be weak, which she initially can’t disprove when she loses an early step battle to former friend, Michelle (Armstrong).
“You know what the toughest thing about this whole football thing is, boy?”
“Saving Magnum’s ass every…damn…week…”
Meanwhile, Destiny is living the relatively good life as the captain of her college sorority step team. Although she’s the captain, she’s not the best stepper on the team. That honor falls to Pam (Conwell), who’s also the team choreographer. When Pam defects to their rival team, Destiny is left holding the bag and the responsibility of preparing the team to step for their lives lest they be dissolved and absorbed by Pam’s team. Destiny spends most of the movie moping about her situation and futzing around with her lifelong friend and love interest, Fabian (Wilson), and another potential boyfriend, Clem (Starr), who’s a down low dog. Destiny expects the solutions to be handed to her until the very end when she finally decides to take matters into her own hands. She’s nowhere near as sympathetic as Raya, she’s not fighting for nearly as much and fighting nowhere near as hard. Additionally, in terms of stepping ability, Raya would blow her into the next county. It’s not even a contest.
That’s ultimately what these movies are about, no? No one’s expecting Mamet in terms of story when it comes to movies of this type. We want to see mind-blowing dancing. Stomp The Yard and You Got Served featured moves I didn’t even know were possible with the human body and the current laws of physics. How She Move also has some excellent step numbers, particularly the climactic national competition. Show Stoppers‘ step numbers came off like the Britney Spears performance from last year’s VMAs: lackluster, half-hearted and at times downright scary. If you remember Whitney Houston’s dancing on her I’m Your Baby Tonight music video, you know where I’m coming from. HSM had dynamic step practices backed by bumping music from notables such as Montell Jordan and Lil Mama. Can’t remember if SS had music of any kind. If it did, it’s not worth mentioning. This is also no contest.
Suddenly I’m a Country fan…
How She Move is just a flat out better movie than Show Stoppers, period. It’s got a better story, better performances, better direction, better music, and most importantly, better dancing. There’s little to nothing that’s redeeming about SS (except som of the actresses, who are simply smokin’). It’s a low budget flick that has nothing whatsoever to elevate it above that. The primary thing that it’s supposed to rely on – its stepping – is amateurish in many cases. Also amateurish is the script and directing; there are many B-stories that are misplaced, misguided, mishandled, or just plain missed. There are asides such as Destiny’s cousin Casino’s gambling problem that are little more than face time opportunity for performer Jackie Long, who isn’t unlikeable, but comes off like a second-rate Mike Epps here. He’s doing all Epps’ schtick but delivering none of the laughs for it. SS also pursues side stories such as Fabian going to the NFL or staying in school, Destiny’s relationship with Fabian’s teammate, Clem, and a hook up by minor characters that were either added as afterthoughts or woefully underwritten. The narrative is choppier than the Oahu Pipeline and this film desperately needed to spring some extra bucks to get at least some serviceable music in the background.
How She Move has a few issues and falls into several of the coming-of-age dance flick genre traps, but generally is a pretty enjoyable watch. To put this in boxing terms, How She Move is Tyson, Show Stoppers is Michael Spinks…or better yet, Robin Givens.
Screw it, I’m going for my Masters.
How She Move has an interesting look to it in that the film is slightly washed out and grainy, adding a bit more realism to the sometimes gritty world it portrays. Sound and music are fine in Dolby 5.1 Surround, with optional English and Spanish subtitles. Show Stoppers doesn’t look bad, but it does have that noticeable lower budget look to the film. Sound doesn’t need to be that great because there’s no discernibly good music in the movie. It does have optional English, French and Spanish subtitles. In terms of special features, well, this round pretty much goes the way of the rest of the fight, but just barely. HSM has three featurettes: The Characters of How She Move, From Rehearsal to Film and How She Move: Telling Her Story, running at 13, 8 and 10 minutes respectively, and covering all of the requisite behind-the-scenes goings-on. SS has one featurette: Stepping Out: The Real Show Stoppers, which highlights how the film drew its inspiration from real steppers and it also spotlights a real step competition and clocks in at 25 minutes.
Winner by Complete Bitch Slap: How She Move
How She Move: 6.4 out of 10
Show Stoppers 3.6 out of 10