In perhaps the surest sign the teen hot-to-trot pic is played out, the Wayans brothers’ “Dance Flick” takes on such easy targets as “High School Musical” and “Step Up,” films that don’t take themselves seriously enough to suffer from such mockery in the first place. This slapstick and scatological spoof settles for obvious punchlines, delivering just enough laughs to justify its existence without coming anywhere near the bar set by “Scary Movie.” The clumsy result is what the teen target aud might call a “dance fail,” with lower returns in store than either dance films or Wayans pics typically enjoy.
As the five credited Wayans writers are clever enough to recognize, the dance subgenre is Hollywood’s favorite place to endorse cross-cultural romances, a trend that’s ripe for the family’s black-centric sense of humor. From the Jets vs. Sharks-style pairing of “Save the Last Dance” to the colorblind multicultural ensembles featured in Disney fare, such pics love to mix and match characters from every side of the tracks: black and white, rich and poor, classical ballet and street dancers.
“Dance Flick” uses them all at once, pairing a brokenhearted Juilliard reject (Shoshana Bush) and a thuggish gangbanger (the thoroughly nonthreatening Damon Wayans Jr.) and watching their worlds collide. As in “Save the Last Dance,” the lead loses her mom en route to her big audition, only this time, the tragedy is played for laughs. Meanwhile, her beau must win back $5,000 in a dance-off or face the wrath of super-size drug lord Sugar Bear (a fatsuit-clad David Alan Grier).
Throw in a tubby Tracy Turnblad type (Chelsea Makela), a Zac Efron-esque closet case (Brennan Hillard) and an obligatory black best friend (Essence Atkins), and you’ve got your dance-movie cliches covered. Since that alone can’t get “Dance Flick” to its 75-minute mark (not counting eight minutes of end credits), the Wayans throw in references to such recent pics as “Dreamgirls,” “Ray” and “Black Snake Moan” (“Twilight” even warrants its own epilogue).
What the Wayanses fail to do is deliver those scant pleasures the dance-movie genre offers — namely, great music, swoon-worthy romantic leads (a Channing Tatum or Rob Pattinson impersonation is a poor substitute for the real deal) and off-the-hook dance montages — leaving only the raunchiest gags unspoiled by the trailer (best of these is Amy Sedaris’ turn as dance instructor Ms. Cameltoe, pronounced “Camel-tois,” whose too-tight leotard pushes the limits of the pic’s PG-13 rating).
Parodying the dance itself is a tricky prospect, since the best hip-hop dancers are frequently funny in their own right, challenging one another in an escalating battle of insult and one-upsmanship. Helmer Damien Dante Wayans doesn’t really have an excuse for cutting that corner, since he enlisted Dave Scott, the same choreographer who devised the power showdowns in half the movies he’s spoofing.
High points include a young female breakdancer determined not to let her pregnant tummy cramp her style, and the “Flame” number, which rewrites the lyrics of “Fame” as a coming-out anthem.
Production values are fine, though the Wayanses still haven’t found the right partner to solve their considerable CG and prosthetics demands — the pic’s beatboxing cameltoe notwithstanding.