Judge Clark Douglas has some dance moves. However, they are so bad that some have been known to rip their eyes out after seeing them.
Some dreams just can't be stopped.
"It's funny, isn't it? One moment can change a million after it."—Raya
Facts of the Case
Raya (Rutina Wesley) has not had an easy life. She grew up in poverty, her older sister died of a drug overdose, and nobody at her school seems to like her very much. However, Raya is a smart student who makes good grades, and she has dreams of becoming a doctor one day. However, her good grades aren't going to be quite enough to get her into medical school. She's going to need some money, and she doesn't seem to have any way to get it. Raya certainly won't turn to a life of crime or drugs; her sister's fate keeps Raya at a distance from that world. However, something does come up that might give Raya a shot at making the money she needs. There's a dance contest, and if she is on the winning team, she could make $50,000. Raya has some great moves, and with some work, they can get better. Will she make it all the way to the top?
As a reviewer, I offer up roughly as many negative and positive reviews as the average reviewer. However, I do like to think of myself as being a little merciful. I'm willing to overlook some flaws in a film that is pleasant, socially redemptive, warm, or a film that treats its characters with exceptional thoughtfulness. Technically, How She Move is the kind of film that I should be kind to. It's a clichéd and well-worn story that tries to promote healthy activities as an alternative to giving up and letting your life go to waste. Maybe it's just my mood, maybe it's the weather, maybe I'm just a lot meaner than I think I am, but I didn't like this movie. Not one bit. It's annoyingly simple-minded and one-dimensional, and a handful of good dance moves aren't enough to salvage the unbearably predictable and clunky plot.
We've seen How She Move before, quite a few times. It's just that it has had different titles over the past few years. It was called Take the Lead, Step Up 2 the Streets, and Stomp the Yard, among other titles. Sure, the characters and the actors change, and so do the dance moves, but the basic premise is the same: if only everyone will just stop doing drugs, do their homework, stay off the streets, and put all of their time into dancing, everyone's life will be okay. That's a nice enough message, but these films sometimes have a very annoying tendency to gloss over very serious issues in order glorify the power of hot dance moves.
How She Move is one of the worst films of this sort I have seen, taking an exceptionally excruciating path towards the standard dance competition finale. Until we get there, we are subjected to all sorts of banal subplots about students with various life problems. Raya's mother doesn't approve of dancing. One student is a great dancer, but needs help in school. One student is a great dancer, but doesn't like to be a team player. One student is a weak dancer, but has a lot of desire to learn and do better. Somebody isn't talking to somebody, someone has a grudge against someone else, and somebody would like nothing better than to crush the dreams of someone.
Additionally, the characters here are highly confrontational and seem incapable of having reasonable conversations with each other. Any time a conflict arises, the characters will immediately start to glare and throw insults at each, often adding physical violence (shoving, punching) into the mix. I kept wanting to tell these folks to try explaining things to each other every once in a while. None of the major actors has much acting experience. They are great dancers, but their lack of experience onscreen really shows during the dramatic scenes. An actor like Antonio Banderas is able to sell some of the old clichés in a movie like Take the Lead, but the actors here make the clichés seem as tired and unconvincing as…well, as they actually are.
A couple reviews of How She Move have claimed that the film is "grittier" than some of the other, similar films I have mentioned. That's true if by "gritty" you mean "shot in a grainy, desaturated manner that unsuccessfully attempts to make this fluff piece seem gritty." Personally, I don't think that approach works very well here. The film is not convincing as a human drama, and the grainy footage only seems to distance the viewer from the exciting moments. Honestly, when you combine the grainy style with a flat and uninvolving DVD transfer, you've got a movie that will look pretty terrible on your home theatre system. That's a shame, especially when you compare the poor visuals with the very dynamic sound. The soundtrack during the big dance sequences is top-notch, but the visuals aren't impressive enough to match what we're hearing. DVD extras are comprised of three featurettes. These are okay, though the music occasionally threatens to drown out what the participants are saying.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I know nothing (and I mean nothing) about dancing. I can barely tell a tango from a break-dance. However, I do know that what we're seeing here are pretty impressive physical feats. You don't have to be a dance aficionado to appreciate the power of what these people are doing. If you are checking out How She Move just for the dance scenes, there's a good half hour of quality material in that department.
The film is well-intentioned and has some impressive dance scenes, but that is about as generous as I can get. As a display of dancing, it works well enough. As a movie, it stinks.
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Scales of Justice
• "The Characters of How She Move"
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