Judge Brett Cullum is a hip-hop ballerina starring in "Swan Break!"
From the streets to the stage, the dream remains the same.
Center Stage: Turn It Up is not a sequel, in the traditional sense, even though we do have a couple of returning characters in the mix. The film follows sweet, passionate Kate Parker (Rachele Brooke Smith, Attack at Zombie High!) as she leaves Detroit to chase her dream of being accepted by the American Ballet Academy in New York City. The girl has no formal training but, after watching a million ballet DVDs, seems to know her stuff. She auditions but is turned away by the director (Peter Gallagher, The O.C.) so that a rich prima donna (Sarah Jayne Jensen, Hairspray) can take her spot. Her natural raw talent catches the eye of both an instructor (Ethan Stiefel, Center Stage) and a new student (Kenny Wormald, You Got Served). Kate begins working at a dance club as a cocktail waitress, but she keeps on dancing every chance she gets. With the help of the love struck student, she aspires to reaudition for the Academy. But first, she's going to teach everyone a thing or two about ballet and hip-hop. The whole point of this one is "Don't give up on your dreams!," and Kate finds her own way to be successful.
It's basically a rehash of Flashdance with younger characters, following the patent formula of every dance movie since that box office phenomenon. We see a lot of dancing, hear some pretty cool music, and suffer through the acting waiting for the next big number. The leads are all likable and do have talent…when the music comes on. Problem is, they are showed up by a one minute routine Ethan Stiefel throws out in the studio which reminds us the original Center Stage had much better dancers doing serious ballet. The conceit of Center Stage: Turn It Up is to blend urban dancing with classical to make it different and more contemporary than the first. That angle works to a degree, but I found myself missing the drama of the ballet school which is seen only briefly in this second chapter. As far as sequels go, I imagine fans of the first movie will find this one a notch below Center Stage. Still, it's not a waste of time. People will appreciate seeing the returning actors, and there are very nice dance sequences that pop off the screen.
The movie is carried by Rachele Brooke Smith who looks more than a little bit like Britney Spears when she had black hair. I had to suppress the desire to see her whip out a stripper pole and start singing "Gimme More." She's a strong dancer with an easy smile that lights up a room. Where some ballerinas get stick thin and meek, Rachele is sculpted and thick-looking coming off strong and powerful. You find it easy to root for her. Kenny Wormald is the love interest, and he looks good with his shirt off. The story takes full advantage of his physical presence making sure in the finale dance he is wearing nothing but tights. There is plenty of eye candy to go around, and that never hurts. Primarily, the cast is full of dancers rather than actors, so you can imagine the strongest plot points are delivered through movement rather than speech.
The DVD is a mixed bag from Sony. The widescreen anamorphic transfer looks soft and more than a little grainy during darker sequences. It's hard to imagine this is not a TV movie from over a decade ago, but it does have a 2008 production date. The five channel sound mix is the best thing going here; clear and well appointed. Extras include two featurettes which talk about the making of the film as well as the choreography. We learn a lot about the project, through talking head interviews with cast, crew, and director. The first menu is a little confusing since it asks you if you want English or three to four different Asian languages as options. Push a wrong button, and you'll find you better know Kanji pretty well. We get a technically weak presentation, a couple of informative but short features, and that's all. This is a far cry from the fully loaded disc for the first film.
Center Stage: Turn It Up has solid dancing, cute as a button leads,
and all the nice scenery New York City has to offer. The problem is the script
provides us a "paint by numbers" story we've all seen done many times
over. If you're a dancer or fan of the art, then it certainly is worth looking
into. If you wouldn't know a "pas de deux" if it hit you on the ass,
stay away. The actors are sexy and strong dancers, but they sure have trouble
carrying the hackneyed tragic tale of a girl who goes on even when her dreams
are crushed. For that story, you're better off digging up Flashdance or
the original Center Stage. Compared to those films, this one feels like
watching a grade school dance recital right after attending a performance of the
Joffrey Ballet. Though I have to admit I smiled through most of the film,
because there were moments when it felt inspired enough to make me want to get
up and do a flying leap in the living room. Damn! There goes another lamp.
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