×

Toronto Film Review: ‘King of the Dancehall’

With:

Nick Cannon, Busta Rhymes, Kimberly Patterson, Whoopi Goldberg, Kreesha Turner, Lou Gossett Jr., Beenie Man, Colin “Collie Budzz” Harper, Peter Stormare, Tevin “Killer Bean” Shaw

A vanity project on at least two levels, Nick Cannon’s “King of the Dancehall” sees the actor and TV host serve as star, director, screenwriter, producer, and executive producer — which is certainly one way to make sure the extensive footage he’s shot of himself dancing shirtless in slow-motion, his image projected in triplicate across the screen, makes it past final cut. As an auteur, Cannon quickly ends up way over his head, unable to wrangle a film that careens off in a dozen directions at once. Yet the director makes two smart decisions that help turn what could have easily been an unwatchable mess into a hysterical, feverish, incredibly watchable one.

The first is his choice to shoot the film on location in Jamaica, deep in the country’s dancehall scene. Though the music itself is not entirely mainstream in the U.S., Stateside audiences will surely recognize some of the countless dancehall beats and dance moves that American pop stars have been ripping off for years. Yet no amount of VMA twerking can compare to the wild, hypersexualized abandon of the real deal, and Cannon captures some of its flavor here.

The second wise move is the decision to cast Jamaican first-time actress Kimberly Patterson, previously employed as a makeup artist on film shoots, as his romantic lead. It’s not hard to guess what initially caught Cannon’s eye — the actress is traffic-haltingly beautiful — but luckily for us, she also turns out to be a natural, possessing a cool ease on camera and an immediate magnetism that will hopefully see her land future roles with dialogue that’s actually worth speaking.

Clearly inspired by the way “The Harder They Come” used genre film conventions to introduce much of America to reggae, “King of the Dancehall” interweaves documentary-style footage of the island’s native music scene with a quarter-baked crime plot, and Cannon plops himself right in the middle of both. Here he plays Tarzan, a Brooklyn drug dealer fresh out of prison, whose mother (Whoopi Goldberg) is ill and unable to pay her medical bills. Thinking of ways to raise cash, Tarzan decides to take his $5,000 nest egg and head to Kingston, where he hopes to strike up a new hustle exporting the island’s finest weed back to the heart of Babylon.

In Jamaica, he hooks up with his cousin, Allestar, aka All Star Toasta, aka Toasta (Busta Rhymes), an ebullient selector whose long-suffering wife just threw him out of the house. Toasta introduces Tarzan to the island’s nightclub scene, its vast network of fearsome gangsters, and his wife’s virginal sister Maya (Patterson), whose suspicious bishop father (Lou Gossett Jr.) keeps her under a watchful eye.

As a protagonist, Tarzan’s primary characteristics are incredible luck and unbelievable stupidity. Thanks to the first, he somehow piques the interest of Maya — who, despite all her virtuousness, is a dancehall queen of some renown. Due to the latter, he makes an immediate enemy of Donovan “Dada” Davidson (Collie “Collie Buddz” Harper), a vicious white-Jamaican gang boss. And yet Tarzan manages to become one of Jamaica’s most successful drug traffickers within a few weeks; within a few months, thanks to Maya’s intimate tutelage, he has also learned how to dance with the best of them.

Shot in actual Jamaican outdoor dancehall venues, the film’s nightlife scenes are clearly meant to be its highlights. The dance moves are appropriately outrageous, but it’s here that Cannon’s inexperience as a director proves most frustrating: Even though this is essentially a dance film, so many of the dance sequences are so darkly-lit and frantically edited that it’s difficult to get a good look at the action. Nonetheless, the energy is there, and it powers the film’s first half well enough.

The second half, however, sees the film go from enjoyably all-over-the-place to unintentionally hysterical. As Tarzan becomes the leader of Kingston’s hottest dance crew — to reiterate, this is supposed to be just a few months after he first started dancing — he reawakens the ire of Dada, who steals his money and has him thrown in prison. Once out, he’s seduced by Dada’s sister (Kreesha Turner) in hilarious fashion, and resolves to go straight by winning the year’s biggest dance contest. It’s here that the film loses its already loose grip on reality, veering off into a few scenes of deep, deep nonsense that simply must be seen to be believed.

As Tarzan, Cannon makes sure to paint as glamorous and shirtless a picture of himself as possible, and his constant voiceover narration produces several laugh-out-loud moments. (Over a montage of jiggling butts, he seriously intones, “asses were everywhere.”) But he does deserve credit for assembling a largely Jamaican cast — as well as splicing in interstitial interviews with Beenie Man, whose song gives the film its title — their dialogue presented with subtitles. Hilariously, it’s the Brooklyn-born Busta Rhymes whose patois requires the most explication. The son of Jamaican parents, Busta appears to be stifling a giggle for most of his scenes, clearly having the time of his life laying the accent on in double-thick coats, and trying to see how many “bloodclots” he can cram into a single sentence. Viewers would be advised to approach this film with the same sort of attitude.

Popular on Variety

Toronto Film Review: 'King of the Dancehall'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), September 12, 2016. Running time: 100 MINS.

Production:

An NCredible production. Produced by Nick Cannon, Roger Ubina. Executive producer, Nick Cannon.

Crew:

Directed, written by Nick Cannon. Camera (color), Luis Perez. Editors, Harvey White, Erik C. Anderson.

With:

Nick Cannon, Busta Rhymes, Kimberly Patterson, Whoopi Goldberg, Kreesha Turner, Lou Gossett Jr., Beenie Man, Colin “Collie Budzz” Harper, Peter Stormare, Tevin “Killer Bean” Shaw

More Film

  • Metro 2033

    Cult Sci-Fi Novel 'Metro 2033' to Be Adapted as Movie (EXCLUSIVE)

    Russia’s TNT-Premier Studios Company, TV-3 Channel and Central Partnership Film Company – all part of Gazprom Media – have come together to produce a movie based on Dmitry Glukhovsky’s sci-fi novel “Metro 2033,” which has also been adapted as a video game. Filming is due to start next year. The Russian premiere of the movie [...]

  • Beforeigners

    'Beforeigners’' Anne Bjornstad on HBO's First Norwegian Original Series

    HAUGESUND, Norway  —  HBO Europe’s first Norwegian original series, which debuted Aug. 21 exclusively across HBO’s territories, has garnered rave reviews in the Norwegian press. It is also a perfect fit for HBO’s brand and goal to create bold, smart and author-driven shows. Produced by Endemol Shine’s Norwegian prodco Rubicon TV, “Beforeigners” is helmed by [...]

  • Refugees from the besieged Muslim enclave

    Sarajevo’s True Stories Market: Documenting the Atrocities of War

    Reconciliation and dealing with the tragedies of the Yugoslav Wars has been a major focus of the Sarajevo Film Festival and its CineLink Industry Days event in recent years. The True Stories Market, launched in 2016, aims to connect filmmakers with organizations that are researching and documenting the Yugoslav Wars that spanned 1991 to 2001 [...]

  • Ena Sendijarevic’s ‘Take Me Somewhere Nice’

    Ena Sendijarevic’s ‘Take Me Somewhere Nice’ Wins Top Prize in Sarajevo

    “Take Me Somewhere Nice,” Bosnian director Ena Sendijarević’s coming-of-age story about a teen raised in the Netherlands who returns to Bosnia to visit her ailing father, won the top prize at the Sarajevo Film Festival Thursday night, earning the Amsterdam-based helmer the coveted Heart of Sarajevo Award. The jury heralded the “beautifully photographed, acted, scripted [...]

  • Khadar Ahmed - BUFO - photo

    Bufo Sets Key Cast for Co-Production ‘The Gravedigger' (EXCLUSIVE)

    HAUGESUND, Norway  —   Actor Omar Abdi, who starred in the Ahmed-scripted short “Citizens,” and actress Yasmin Warsame, who made her name as a Canadian model, will topline romantic-tragedy “The Gravedigger,” the latest big screen project from Bufo, the Helsinki-based outfit behind Berlinale winner “The Other Side of Hope.” The film follows a Djibouti gravedigger [...]

  • Jacobs Ladder Movie 2019

    Film Review: 'Jacob's Ladder'

    It’s understandable that someone would want to remake “Jacob’s Ladder,” Adrian Lyne’s 1990 head-trip thriller about a Vietnam veteran haunted by fragmentary nightmare visions. I was far from alone in finding the original to be an overwrought but rather thin “psychological” horror film that was more punishing than pleasurable. And it wasn’t exactly a hit, [...]

  • Fiddler A Miracle of Miracles

    Film Review: 'Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles'

    Still beloved and routinely revived 55 years after its Broadway debut — including a Yiddish-language version now playing in New York — “Fiddler on the Roof” is a popular phenomenon that shows no sign of subsiding. Max Lewkowicz’s “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles” provides an entertaining if hardly exhaustive overview of how the unlikely success [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content