High Strung


Girl just wanna have fun.

Girl just wanna have fun.

(2016) Urban Musical (Paladin) Keenan Kampa, Nicholas Galitzine, Jane Seymour, Sonoya Mizuno, Richard Southgate, Paul Freeman, Maia Morgenstern, Ian Eastwood, Anabel Kutay, Marcus Emanuel Mitchell, Comfort Fedoke, Simon A. Mendoza, Miranda Wilson, Dave Scott, Andrew Pleavin, Tomi May, David Lipper, Nigel Barber, Giulia Nahmany. Directed by Michael Damian

 

One is a fresh-faced wanna-be ballerina from the Midwest who is in danger of losing her scholarship to a prestigious arts academy in Manhattan. The other is a brooding, angry subway busker whose violin playing shows tons of ability and tons of passion but little restraint; he’s about to be deported. Is this a match made in heaven or the odd couple?

This is the latest entry into a genre that really began in 1980 with Fame but has really picked up steam in the last decade with the Step Up movie franchise, the Glee TV series and Pitch Perfect, to name a few, plus other assorted one-offs. Star-crossed lovers from opposite sides of the tracks, one into classical performance art, the other an innovator, face enormous challenges, enter a dance competition usually revolving around hip-hop, then after a temporary setback nearly tears them apart, reunites in the last frame to grab the gold, the glory and the fluttering hearts of tweens everywhere. Roll credits.

It’s not a bad formula per se, but this is the type of movie that has not been among my favorite genres and this one is a fairly weak representative of it. The dialogue is a bit clunky and the plot preposterous. The saving grace for the couple – ballet dancer Ruby (Kampa) and hip-hop violinist Johnny (Galitzine) – is (get this) a string and dance competition with a $25,000 grand prize. Have you heard of a string and dance competition, much less one that is giving away that much cash? I didn’t think so.

There are also hard hats who break out into a dance-off on a subway platform and a (fictional) conservatory that seems to only employ Russians, including a feisty and nearly unrecognizable Jane Seymour as the headmistress, and Paul Freeman as a dancer whose hips were shattered by the Nazis who has become a pre-eminent ballet teacher. Ironic, since Freeman played a Nazi ally in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The dance sequences are energetic, spirited and actually a lot of fun to watch. That figures, since Dave Scott, one of the best hip hop choreographers in the business, is involved as a producer (although he is not listed as a choreographer here). They’re most certainly the best aspects of the film and make it marginally watchable. The cast is fresh-faced and at least good watching; Kampa has a kind of ingénue appeal, while Galitzine has cheekbones that can cut glass and a brooding pout sure to set tween girls to sighing in their Corn Flakes for months after seeing this.

But too much of this movie is simply “been there, done that” and the most amazing dance sequences in the world can’t save a movie that borrows so heavily from other movies, many of which are frankly not that good. I will give it props for having a gee-whiz can-do vibe and a certain innocent sweetness to it, but there isn’t enough here to hold the interest of any but the most non-discerning for the entire hour and a half run time.

REASONS TO GO: High energy. Winsome leads.
REASONS TO STAY: Cliches abound. Adds nothing to the genre. Stretches credulity. Predictable throughout.
FAMILY VALUES: A little foul language and some thematic elements.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Much of the movie was filmed in Bucharest, standing in for Manhattan.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/8/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 67% positive reviews. Metacritic: 48/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Step Up
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT: To Keep the Light

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The Wedding Ringer


A dance-off Derek Zoolander would envy.

A dance-off Derek Zoolander would envy.

(2014) Comedy (Screen Gems) Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Jorge Garcia, Ken Howard, Cloris Leachman, Affion Crockett, Dan Gill, Corey Holcomb, Colin Kane, Jenifer Lewis, Alan Ritchson, Mimi Rogers, Aaron Takahashi, Olivia Thirlby, Whitney Cummings, Ignacio Serricchio, Nicky Whelan, Patrick Carlyle, GloZell Green. Directed by Jeremy Garelick

Weddings are meant to be rituals in which two separate people are formalized as a wedded couple. It is meant to be a celebration and a solemn step – a pledge of troth between two people til death do them part, although that aspect is a little less usual these days. Nonetheless, it is meant to be a major life-changing moment, one worthy of respect. It’s not supposed to be the source of the kind of stress that the modern wedding creates.

And yet we still spend small fortunes to give our little princesses their moment in the sun. The role of the groom is to shut up, be supportive and not to get frustrated when his bride-to-be is fretting over the smallest, most insignificant detail in order to make the day absolutely perfect, her Dream Wedding, the one she has been planning since she was a little princess getting glitter blown on her at the Bippity-Boppity Boutique at Disney World.

Doug Harris (Gad) is that groom. Basically a good-natured, decent fellow, he has been so hung up on making a career that he scarcely had time to date, much less develop the bonds of friendship with other guys. So when a supermodel-beautiful Gretchen Palmer (Cuoco-Sweeting) agrees to go out with him, he is surprised. When she agrees to marry him, he is shocked – but thrilled.

Now she’s planning the Wedding of the Century, one that would make British royalty green with jealousy. Even the salad dressing must be just right. So wedding planner Edmundo (Serricchio) needs the info on the seven groomsmen including the Best Man for the programs, Doug has been putting him off – mainly because he doesn’t have a best man, much less seven groomsmen.

Getting a tip from Edmundo, Doug visits Jimmy Callahan (Hart). This enterprising young charmer has made a lucrative business off of the issues of men just like Doug – men getting married without the support system that most brides develop over the years. He masquerades as best man for a price, providing groomsmen and whatever the groom needs to look irresistible to his new bride, sealing the deal on the wedding night.

However, seven groomsmen is a tall order, especially with the wedding date just ten days away. “What you’re talking about is what we joke about,” he tells Doug. There’s even a name for it; the Golden Tux. It doesn’t appear on any brochure because it’s never been done. Nonetheless, true love must win out, so Jimmy agrees to help Doug out – for a fee, with the understanding that he’s not buying a friend but renting a best man.

Newly christened Bic Mitchum – mainly so Kevin Hart can say “Bic Bic Bic Bic Bic” during the film – the CEO of Best Man Inc. sets out to find seven groomsmen in a hurry. Because of the time crunch, Jimmy – I mean, Bic – has to take what he can get rather than get the best. His motley crew are as Doug himself best described them; “It’s as if the Goonies grew up and became rapists.”

With Gretchen and her younger sister Alison (Thirlby) getting a little suspicious of the best man and the groomsmen, meeting the family including Gretchen’s imposing dad (Howard) and patrician grandmother (Leachman) is more than a little formidable, particularly when it turns out that Bic is supposed to be a priest – army chaplain to be exact – gets worse when Doug in a moment of panic nearly creates grandma flambé but nonetheless Jimmy seems to be pulling it off, but now the issue is that Jimmy and Doug are actually taking a liking to one another, and Jimmy is taking a liking to Alison too. Still, coordinating all this takes a massive set, and a lot of luck. Will Jimmy get Doug to the altar on time?

Hart has been particularly hot of late and his cinematic winning streak doesn’t look like it’s going to end here. While the movie isn’t the runaway success that Ride Along was, it’s still doing decent enough box office and should make enough to make a tidy profit with a relatively low production cost behind it. If there’s a good reason this movie is successful, it will be Hart who is rapidly moving into the Will Smith role of engaging and likable leading man while also taking the Chris Rock mantle of edgy comedian. That’s a very difficult tightrope act to manage but Hart makes it look easy.

Gad is starting to show up on the radar of big budget Hollywood producers, having made a name for himself as the voice of Olaf in Frozen and appearances in Wish I Was Here and the upcoming Pixels. He is ostensibly the straight man but he has an impeccable comic timing and he gets a few moments of his own, but this is definitely the Kevin Hart show in many ways and Gad wisely lets the comic take center stage and makes quite the second banana.

Some critics have complained about the portrayal of women as conniving Bridezillas but guys, this is about one bride, not all brides. Let’s not let our liberal guilt get in the way of a good time. Frankly there are some pretty good comic moments and I was adequately entertained throughout. which is gold when your movie comes out in January. If you go in expecting to have a game-changing comedy that is going to change the face of the medium, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. However if you go in expecting a sweet-natured movie that will be occasionally inappropriate but generally funny throughout, you might actually enjoy this. Sometimes it pays to have low expectations because when you get a movie that is this good, it’s like a grand slam from a career .150 hitter in the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game of the World Series.

REASONS TO GO: Nice chemistry between Hart and Gad.
REASONS TO STAY: A little bit predictable. Occasionally crass and bro-centric.
FAMILY VALUES: A whole lot of foul language, some sexual references as well as crude sexuality, brief drug use and some nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was originally meant to be starring vehicle for Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/7/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 33% positive reviews. Metacritic: 35/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hitch
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Black or White