Review: ‘Can’t Stop Dancing’

Try putting this in your comedy blender: Take the hapless showbiz wannabes of "Waiting for Guffman," the costumes and camp humor of "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" and the full frontal amateur ensemble onslaught of "The Full Monty," mix all of them together in the service of spoofing '80s dance movies -- such as "Flashdance," "Breakin' " and "Footloose" -- add a major dollop of Three Stooges slapstick, and you've got "Can't Stop Dancing."

Try putting this in your comedy blender: Take the hapless showbiz wannabes of “Waiting for Guffman,” the costumes and camp humor of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and the full frontal amateur ensemble onslaught of “The Full Monty,” mix all of them together in the service of spoofing ’80s dance movies — such as “Flashdance,” “Breakin’ ” and “Footloose” — add a major dollop of Three Stooges slapstick, and you’ve got “Can’t Stop Dancing.” Indie vid outfit PM, known primarily for action-oriented shelf-fillers, should reap rewards on this diversion from the routine. Teen tape jockeys will enjoy, and perhaps, in the land where Adam Sandler is king, even a few theatrical turnstiles will spin with proper promotion and cult positioning.

When Randy Rubio (Ben Zook), the 260-pound leader of a Topeka, Kan., theme park dance troupe, learns that the troupe’s 15-year run at Funland is coming to an end, he rallies his talentless fellow terpsichoreans into pooling their dreams and $3.50 an hour salaries and making a stab at the big time. Renamed “The Stupendous Six” and game for the fast lane of Hollywood, Randy and his rejects outfit their tourbus in bold Brady Bunch colors, pack their sweatbands and tights and head West.

Nothing terribly surprising happens Out West, and pic’s Achilles’ heel is its failure to develop more than sketch comedy identities for each of the Six or to offer any fresh insights a la “Guffman” into the psychology of the hopelessly self-deluded showbiz junkies. Though the predictability of lousy apartments, venal talent pageant hosts and Venice beach punksters keeps the pic from capitalizing on the talents and fearlessness of the cast, “Dancing” does manage to conjure up a few inspired moments. A “dance-off” between the punks and the Six is one such hilarious bit, as is the final showdown when the Six take on the punks and a troupe of flawlessly professional swing dancers. Armed with costuming straight out of a (bad) mescaline trip, the Six pour their hearts and souls into winning the grand prize: the chance to perform at the Little Miss Orange County beauty pageant.

Kudos to all members of the Six: “Saturday Night Live’s” Melanie Hutsell does her best nasal airhead impression as Winnie; standup comic Margaret Cho gamely portrays JoJo as both sex-starved and suffering (or enjoying) an oral fixation; Brett Paesel as Sheila is Randy’s love interest as well as in one of the pic’s funniest bits when she and Randy get into a “Six Weeks” type clinch; Bruce Daniels gets some of the pic’s biggest laughs as Munroe, an African-American given to mouthing black slang in a way you’ve never heard; and Michael Irpino infuses welcome pluck and sincerity into the part of the stereotypical gay high-stepper .

Of special note is Zook’s Randy. Co-writer & co-director (with Stephen Falick) as well as star, Zook essentially takes the na-ked dancing fat guy routine from David Letterman and builds a movie around it. His elan, zest, fearlessness and physical humor drive the movie past its writing and budgetary limitations, much the way his Randy rallies his dancers to overcome the obstacles of the talentless.

Pic is packed with cameos from the worlds of indie film and TV, including indie staples Janeane Garofalo and Illeana Douglas and “ER’s” Noah Wyle and Laura Innes. Brief perfs are randomly amusing, with Wyle a standout as part of the world’s most pretentious modern dance troupe and Innes disarming as the alcoholic landlady with an eye for Munroe.

Given the modest budget (considerably south of $1 million), special credit goes to the resourcefulness and garish goofiness of Scott Sandoe’s choreography, Rodney Munoz’s costuming, the production design work of Helen Harwell, the instant camp classic songs from Fred Rapoport and Nick Phoenix and the solid camera work of vet d.p. Mac Ahlberg. Directors Falick and Zook manage to keep the attention on the comic performances, and they make sure the film’s modest means never shortchange the players.

Can't Stop Dancing


A PM Entertainment presentation. Produced by Richard Pepin, Joseph Merhi. Executive producers, H. Charles George, Darryl M. Silver. Directed, written by Stephen Falick, Ben Zook.


Randy Rubio - Ben Zook Winnie - Melanie Hutsell JoJo - Margaret Cho Monroe - Bruce Daniels Tyson - Michael Irpino Sheila - Brett Paesel Chester - Fred Willard Landlady - Laura Innes Belinda Peck - Janeane Garofalo Chapman - David Cross Simpson - Bob Odenkirk Poe - Noah Wyle Anita Dick - Illeana Douglas Roman - Taylor Negron
Camera (color), Mac Ahlberg; editor, Tony Lambardo; music, Fred Rapoport, Nick Phoenix; production designer, Helen Harwell; costume designer, Rodney Munoz; choreography, Scott Sandoe; line producer, John Kelly; associate producers, Tyrone Pinkham, John Capella, Joe Coyle. Reviewed at Palm Springs Film Festival, Jan. 16, 1999. Running time: 90 MIN.
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