Gertrude Stein prophesied "The Dancer" when she declared "There is no there there." Half-baked idea behind the venture -- produced and co-written by Luc Besson, based on his own concept -- is simply too lame to sustain a feature movie: A mute dancer dreams of shaking her booty on Broadway but is not permitted to fully express herself until a young scientist comes to her rescue, sort of. An exhaustingly kinetic yet narratively static fairy tale, pic opened soft and looks to stand as a rare commercial miscalculation in Besson's enviably shrewd career.

Gertrude Stein prophesied “The Dancer” when she declared “There is no there there.” Half-baked idea behind the venture — produced and co-written by Luc Besson, based on his own concept — is simply too lame to sustain a feature movie: A mute dancer dreams of shaking her booty on Broadway but is not permitted to fully express herself until a young scientist comes to her rescue, sort of. An exhaustingly kinetic yet narratively static fairy tale, pic opened soft and looks to stand as a rare commercial miscalculation in Besson’s enviably shrewd career.

In his admirable mission to help young talent, Besson hired a screenwriter barely out of her teens and gave his assistant, Fred Garson — a Besson techie since “Leon” (aka “The Professional”) — a crack at directing. Unfortunately, this French-financed, English-lingo misfire is of negligible interest to anybody of an age in double digits. Resume of lead Mia Frye, a supple and lovely dancer-choreographer, includes conjuring the gestures to the dance hit “The Macarena.”

India Rey (Frye), who teaches movement to adoring schoolkids, wins the dance contest every Saturday night at a cavernous Brooklyn disco. Her ornery young brother-cum-manager, Jasper (Garland Whitt), delivers sides of beef to Manhattan restaurants until he gets fired for insolent behavior. India makes the final cut at an open audition for a Broadway show but is dismissed when she gives her name in sign language. The director says her disability will slow down rehearsals — and time, alas, is money.

Back at the disco, Isaac (Rodney Eastman), a stammering scientist, sees India dance and is inspired in the lab where he works under a kindly fellow scientist, Oscar (Feodor Atkine). His vague invention may permit India to translate her movements into sound. And then what could possibly stand between her and mega-stardom?

Puerile and derivative when genuine edge and originality are needed, pic is hampered by restless visuals and by dialogue so basic it sounds like ransom notes glued together from discarded movie scripts. Mistakenly equating frenzied lensing and editing with dynamic storytelling, pic revs up more gratuitous swooping camera movements than if you tied a mini-cam to a seagull.

The film is carpeted with music. After the umpteenth toss of Frye’s long dreadlocks, most viewers will want to take a razor to her serpentine braids and a hatchet to the score.

What passes for conflict is risible: It may be inconvenient for a dancer to be mute, but it’s far less tragic than a dancer going deaf, losing a limb or developing vertigo. Labored and repetitive venture consistently undercuts any opportunity for earned emotion despite Frye’s game, Harpo-like expressions. Whitt is strident and completely unappealing as the brother; Eastman is a nebulous milquetoast as the scientist.

The Dancer

France

Production

An ARP Selection release of a Leeloo Prods./TF1 Films Prod. production. Produced by Luc Besson. Executive producer, Bernard Grenet. Directed by Fred Garson. Screenplay, Jessica Kaplan, Luc Besson, based on an original idea by Besson.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Thierry Arbogast; editor, Sylvie Landra; music, Pascal Lafa & Poz; art director, Dan Weil; sound (Dolby), Pierre Excoffier, Francois Groult; casting, Todd Thaler. Reviewed at UGC Cine Cite Les Halles, Paris, June 12, 2000. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

India Rey - Mia Frye Jasper Rey - Garland Whitt Isaac - Rodney Eastman Stephane - Josh Lucas Oscar - Feodor Atkine Cut Killer - DJ Atomic (English dialogue)
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