Appellate Judge Tom Becker is stomping the yard in anger after wasting 89 minutes of his life watching Showstoppers.
Friendship is their world.
Stepping is their life.
Winning is their dream.
One of the surprise hits of 2007 was Stomp the Yard, a film about fraternity step dancing at black colleges. Showstoppers takes the same idea, only this one's about sororities.
Facts of the Case
At Virginia National District University, Destiny (Faune A. Chambers, Epic Movie) is the captain of her sorority's step team. Her best friend, Pam (Angell Conwell, Soul Plane) is actually the best stepper and the brains behind the moves, but for some reason or another, she's not the captain, and this makes her bitter.
The VNDU Lambdas are in a constant step rivalry with another group of Lambdas at nearby (walking distance, as far as I could tell) Virginia Downs University. VDU, evidently, is the more expensive of the two schools, and enrollment is only open to rich, stupid people.
Although they've won the National Stepping Championship five years running, the VDU Lambdas are worried, so they lure Pam to their school by paying her tuition and making her step team captain.
Now, Destiny and her two remaining step sisters are left to go it alone.
Will the VNDU Lambda steppers make it to the national competition and face off with the VDU Lambdas? Does Destiny have the drive and talent to pull her crew together? Will the sorority chapter be disbanded because the step team sucks? And will Destiny realize that her true love is football player Fabian (Bryce Wilson, Beauty Shop) and not cheating braggart Clem (Fredro Starr, Clockers)?
Yes, kinda, no, and yes.
Blatantly attempting to cash in on the success of Stomp the Yard, Showstoppers is an embarrassingly clumsy and amateurish affair that is somehow getting a DVD release from Warner Bros. Unlike StY, which gave us the dancing front-and-center and surrounded it with a clichéd plot, Showstoppers gives us bland characters and dull, predictable plotting with a few step routines thrown in almost as an afterthought.
I realize it's a time-honored tradition to have older actors and actresses (generally mid-20s) playing college kids, but Showstoppers takes this to ridiculous levels. Most of these "teens" are well into their 30s. Fredro Starr, who plays allegedly sexy bad boy Clem, was 37 when this film was made, and looks every day of it, and then some. Inexplicably, they cast this small, slight man as a football player.
Every now and again, it seems like the film is going to give us something a little thought-provoking. The rich girls are mean and shallow, and one brags that her parents made their fortune from a company that makes hair straightener (she calls it "nappy killer"). In the next scene, a teacher invites Destiny, who is trying to think up new step routines, to come and observe her African dance class. Ah-ha, thinks us, we're going to get a lesson on being true to one's heritage, with the proud and streetwise Pam rejecting these phony airheads and Destiny's girls immersing themselves in African culture and incorporating what they've learned into their routines. A little trite, but a valuable message.
No dice. Pam sticks with the shallow girls, and while we get a few seconds of Destiny watching the dance class, we never see her incorporate what she's learned into her squad's routines.
As a matter-of-fact, we never see how the squad's final routines are developed at all, nor do we know why all along, the squad has consisted of three girls, but at the championship, there are six. Instead of showing us anything about how the steps are created, we are treated to a bunch of stale subplots: Destiny is in love with Fabian but dating "player" Clem; Fabian has the chance to play pro football, but this means dropping out of school; goofy guy Casino is always in trouble with his bookies over his gambling debts; one girl gets "fired" from the step team but then comes back; and so on. All these bits are badly written and acted, and we know how they're going to turn out. There's no flow to these scenes. They're like a bunch of bad improv sketches that are randomly thrown together.
The absolute worst is saved for the big stepping competition, which features a half-dozen sororities and fraternities in addition to our rival Lambdas. Now, since stepping is so much about synchronization, you'd think that the cinematography would reflect this. Instead, we get a floating camera that shows us: dancers standing still, then taking a step, then cut to the audience, then cut back to someone's feet, then drift to a flailing arm, then swing down to the floor, then back to the audience, then to a couple of steppers doing different things, then a foot, then a hand, then the audience, then the floor, then—poof!—that act is done. Repeat for the next act. When we do finally get a couple of shots of the full stage—reserved for our two main competitors—they are as dynamic as a home video of a grade school pageant.
The image on Showstoppers is horrendous, with "quality" that varies from scene to scene. At its best, it's fairly clear, though flat, bland, and badly lit; at its worst—which is most of the time—it's grainy and streaked and looks like it was shot on a hand-held security camera on a boat and then transferred to an old VHS tape. The audio is hollow and badly mixed. These were most likely problems with the source material—the editing is also atrocious—but it doesn't change the fact that the disc looks and sounds like crap.
The best part of this disc is its lone extra, "Stepping Out: The Real Showstoppers," a 25-minute feature on step dancing that includes interviews with and footage of actual step dancers. It's too bad someone didn't think to expand this to a feature-length documentary and release it instead of coming up with the hackneyed and slapdash film that it supports.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
One of the celebrity judges in the big competition scene is Petri Hawkins-Byrd, Judge Judy's bailiff. I like Judge Judy, and Byrd seems like a very nice man. He's the only person who's not miscast, and he tries really hard to look like he's interested in the goings on around him. Kudos, big guy!
I really can't recommend Showstoppers on any level. It's not interesting or fun enough to be a "bad" movie, it has too many out-of-place vulgar moments to be teen movie, and it makes stepping seem less exciting than the average game of hopscotch. Add to that the wretched technical quality, half-baked characters, ludicrous casting, and intelligence-insulting script, and we've got a loser.
Guilty. Now, step out of my courtroom.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "Stepping Out: The Real Showstoppers"
Review content copyright © 2008 Tom Becker; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.