Once upon a time, dance movies were all about seduction and romance. These days, they tend to be more interested in conflict, aggression, and competition; it's less a matter of who ends up with whom than who gets served and who goes home humiliated. The dreary new dance film How She Move fits snugly into this new template. To borrow the reductive mathematics of pitch meetings, it's essentially Save The Last Dance meets Rize meets Canada. But where even cinematic debacles as dire as Kickin' It Old Skool and You Got Served redeemed themselves in part via stunning dance sequences, How She Move's artlessly assembled dance scenes tend to bleed together into one angry, percussive dance of glowering rhythmic aggression. Anyone who's seen any recent movie about troubled youngsters expressing themselves through dance-offs has essentially already seen this.
In an impressively internal performance, Rutina Wesley stars as a sensitive young dancer who returns home after a stint at an elite private school after her beloved older sister dies of a drug overdose. She soon infiltrates an all-male dance group, then trades up to a more accomplished team headed by a charismatic drug dealer. This all leads toward a climactic sequence where Wesley must choose between her education and her dreams of becoming a dancer.
How She Move initially boasts an appealing grittiness. In its forthright approach to class, it aspires to be an 8 Mile-like exploration of art as a means of transcending and escaping hopeless poverty. But the film's good intentions gradually get lost in a sea of overwrought contrivances, stock characters, awkward cameos from B- and C-listers (R&B; singer Keyshia Cole and not-so-funnyman DeRay Davis) and warmed-over family issues. The Caribbean accents and Toronto setting similarly help set the film apart during its promising early sequences, giving it a specificity and sense of place. Then it gets bogged down in the kind of melodramatic foolishness that's sadly universal.