Starring: Damon Wayans Jr., Craig Wayans, Shoshana Bush, Essence Atkins, and Chelsea Makela. Directed by Damien Dante Wayans.
Rated MA15+ (strong crude humour). 83 min.
This film is billed as an American parody of popular musical and dance films, which include “Save the Last Dance”, “Hairspray”, “Flashdance”, “You Got Served”, and “High School Musical”. A relatively thin plot weaves itself through the parody, and there are throw-away allusions to many other movies such as “Singing in the Rain” and the Prom night in “Twilight”. A white, suburban girl, Megan White (Shoshana Bush) loses her mother in a tragic car accident on the way to her ballet audition. After Megan fails the audition, she heads for the inner city, and is helped by worldly-wise Thomas Uncles (Damon Wayans Jr.), who assists her with a series of misadventures. The city streets are savage, and Thomas’s help is needed. Thomas is a great street dancer, whose passion for dancing is put to the test in dance battles, as is his attraction to Megan. Both Thomas and Megan are from different sides of the tracks, and they are united by their love of dancing.
Those involved with the movie cross two generations of the Wayans family. One or more members of that family are involved in the films’ scripting, its production, act in it, are responsible for its musical score, or direct it. Six members of the Wayans family are involved in the movie in one way or another; thus, there is heavy meaning to the description of the film as “The Wayans are Back”. As a spoof, the film works sporadically, but there is incredible detail in its direction by Damien Wayans. Not surprisingly, there is an indulgent quality to the film as a whole, but it is tempered by some great rap-dancing.
As a parody, American style, it is hard to estimate the film’s general appeal in Australia. The movie has teen appeal, but only adults have the memories to appreciate most of the bite or point behind the various spoofs. One has to be in the know to get the most out of this movie. The film has been titled “flick”, because of its satirical touch in that it pays tribute in one way or another to a multitude of dance movies before it. There is a passion for dancing that is communicated throughout the film, but just how satirical it all is, will depend on one’s detailed knowledge of past movies and particular dance moves. In this movie, Tracy Transfat (played by Chelsea Makela) was actually Tracy Turnblad in the original “Hairspray”; and the dance battle scenes take off the freestyle battle in “8 Mile (Eminem)”. A number of scenes also send up black stereotypes, though some tread a fine line between being funny and demeaning.
In the film, the Wayans Brothers create some genuinely funny moments. For example, the musical production by the Joffrey Ballet, which parodies the death of Megan’s mother, is an audacious skit that works in a gruesome, satirical way. Also, the scene where Charity (Megan’s best friend, played by Essence Atkins) locks her baby in a school closet so that her child can stay out of trouble could very easily have gone wrong, but doesn’t. Overall, though, despite the satirical thrusts, there is detailed reliance on very crude humour to try and get by. The crassness of much of the humour is so obvious, it is almost impossible to think that the Wayans Brothers thought it would have wide appeal. Efforts to parody other movies fill the plot, and the ability to spoof its own genre in a sensitive way finds its mark, but some of the hits lapse into bad taste because of the crudity of the humour. This film, particularly with its heavy dose of toilet humour, earns the way it has been described.
Laying aside the film’s partial success in spoofing its own kind, all those in this movie seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. Essence Atkins as Charity is especially bubbly as Megan’s friend, though Shoshana Bush as Megan plays it relatively straight. Those watching the movie may or may not enjoy it quite as much as those who are in the film, but it is hard to make good dancing look skilful and funny at the same time, with such a detailed eye on the past, and the movie does that well.
Paramount Pictures. Out August 27, 2009
Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.