Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Step dancing saves otherwise mediocre ‘How She Move’

E-mail this article \ Print this article

Ian Watson⁄Paramount Vantage
Rutina Wesley plays ‘Raya’ in the dance drama, ‘How She Move.’
Despite its numerous flaws, I liked ‘‘How She Move” in spite of itself.

Raya (Rutina Wesley, in her feature film debut) has to leave her prestigious prep school after the death of her drug-addicted sister. Since her parents can no longer afford to pay the expensive tuition, Raya must return to her neighborhood school where she a cool welcome by her former running mates, including her old friend Michelle (Tre Armstrong.)

Raya’s only chance in getting back to the prep school is by passing a scholarship exam but once she starts to doubt that she was successful, she looks at other options — namely winning a $50,000 step dance competition.

Since the all-female teams stand little chance of winning, Raya joins the crew of Bishop (Dwain Murphy) who may or may not have been her old boyfriend. It’s one of those conclusions the audience has to figure out for themselves.

Annmarie Morais’ script is a little all over the place. Morais’ previous screenwriting duties have been limited to television and that experience is very evident here. The constant stop and go flow of the script would work better with commercial breaks. Some of the subplots aren’t consistent from one scene to the next.

Raya’s relationship with Michelle is probably the best example. One moment Michelle is ready to knock her out and in the next, they’re reminiscing about the old days and acting like best pals. At least Morais develops the main characters enough that you’ll care about Raya. That’s in no small part to Wesley, who has a winning charisma and likable presence on screen.

Morais brings a few new wrinkles to the ‘‘dancer trying to prove herself” theme but doesn’t really attempt to bring anything you haven’t already seen in ‘‘Honey,” ‘‘Save the Last Dance,” ‘‘Step Up,” ‘‘Stomp,” etc.

But audiences don’t really care about a gripping plot in dance movies. In that sense, the genre is similar to horror movies. If the payoff is good, a generic cliché-heavy plot won’t matter. And in that regard, ‘‘How She Move” should definitely prove to be a crowd-pleaser.

As the film progresses, director Ian Iqbal Rashid (‘‘Touch of Pink”), gets a better feel for filming the step routines, which initially are too close on the actors to really get a good appreciation for their movements.

Once he’s found his groove though, the dance routines are shot with a flair for the spectacular and worth the price of admission alone.

Rashid isn’t working with a big-time budget here, but the less polished glitzy look actually works in the film’s favor as it has a more authentic feel than a ‘‘pretty” visual of life in dank warehouses.

It’s not the greatest movie of the year and might not even be the best in the genre as ‘‘Step Up 2” is coming out next month, but if you like dance movies ‘‘How She Move” won’t disappoint.

Rating: Two stars

How She Move

Rated PG-13; Dance; 91 minutes

Director: Ian Iqbal Rashid

Cast: Rutina Wesley, Tre Armstrong, Cle Bennett, Dwain Murphy and Brennan Gademans