Film Reviews

Pop It, Lock It, Yo

Good day, friends and homies. I bring word of a project titled You Got Served, which essays the task of appraising the current state of urban American street dancing and the dancers who dance it. The good news is that it's dynamic, sincere and spirited. The bad news -- for the critic who may as well be from another planet -- is that the movie doesn't offer any particular reason to hate upon it amusingly, nor to provide it with a chuckle-worthy dissing. Did I say that right? Yo.

Here behold the Los Angeles-based tale of two determined young entertainment entrepreneurs and their struggles. Elgin (Marques Houston of R&B group IMX) is the stoic type, adequately congenial but beleaguered by domestic strain and thus prone to eruptions of attitude. His compatriot, David (Omari Grandberry), wanders about in pigtails, cheerfully sustaining a downright girlish sense of hope almost shockingly untainted by the cruel scarring of obligatory neighborhood machismo. Basically, these two real-life brothers are two of the most enjoyable musicians to appear onscreen since Sting played a bellboy. When not shooting hoops or toiling for a mean mutha of a mobsta (Michael "Bear" Taliferro, of Life) who travels in that most evil of vehicles, the Cadillac Escalade, the two and their crew (Jarrell Houston, DeMario Thornton and Dreux Frederic, who with Grandberry form the group B2K) bust -- as it were -- groovy moves. If "groovy" no longer translates, let's just say that their rhythmic maneuvers are decidedly sick.

However, the leaders of a rival crew propose to them a challenge: a dance-off -- incorporating what we'll generously call break-dancing-type moves -- wherein each posse ponies up $5,000, winners take all. These "white boys from Orange County" are of the jeering, sneering sort, thus we instantly and irrevocably despise them, plus their leader with the fake punk hair (Christopher Jones) looks like a reject from No Doubt. Their accompanying young women may perform in a pulsating manner that makes the floor thank its lucky stars, but this team is bad, as in "not good" -- not because they're led by pallid, privileged punks, but because, frankly, they're obnoxious jerks.

The two crews face off in the warehouse of the benevolent, altruistic, godlike Mr. Rad (popular favorite Steve Harvey), but lo! -- a fiscal disagreement with former crew member Sonny (Jerome Jones) sets them on the path of decline. The jerks win, the heroes are unjustly "served," and worse, trouble brews between Elgin and David, in the form of Elgin's sprightly younger sister Liyah (Jennifer Freeman, of the forthcoming Johnson Family Vacation), who falls for David, and vice versa. Knowing David's pigtailly playa ways, this doesn't sit well with Elgin, and Family Issues burst forth.

A moment now to appreciate: Jennifer Freeman is so aesthetically pleasing that one must regard her from the corner of the eye or sustain actual physical pain. In keeping with this, her character possesses a breezy but plausible je ne sais quoi that's quite delightful onscreen. This could be attributed to her diplomatic missions to reconcile brother and boyfriend, or her altruistic desire to become a doctor, or perhaps even her tasteful, industry-sanctioned use of an iMac. But mainly it's this: When she and David are courting, she switches off his cell phone, so they can enjoy a tête-à-tête sans interruptions. Heaven on Earth! The character's only apparent flaw appears later, when she tells her downtrodden beau, "I hate that I can't do anything to cheer you up." Girl, please.

That said, You Got Served contains other miracles as well. For one, in contemporary Los Angeles, David is able to provide two chocolate malts, plus burgers with fries, for himself and his beloved, using only a borrowed 10-dollar bill. It is also revealed that, even given this diet, the two carry not a scintilla of extra fat upon their person. Unrelated (apart from the "young love" theme) but also somewhat miraculous, there's even some or other hip-hop version of Beethoven's "Für Elise" shoved in here, though seemingly at random.

To keep the story moving along and to remind us that the streets aren't yet civilized, a requisite shooting tragedy occurs, spurring the feuding friends into action. Adding . . . flava, there's Liyah's saucy, neurotic friend Beautifull (Meagan Good) who routinely saves souls and reminds everyone to use two L's in her name, plus Elgin's and Liyah's sweet grandmother (Esther Scott). The senior lady is great; after bemoaning her arthritis, back problems, blood pressure and gout, she insists, "I ain't one to complain." Later, at the big dance showdown, when happy dongs are mischievously waggled, she hoots in approval. Go Grandma!

Ultimately, this movie is all about the dancing, and director Christopher B. Stokes (House Party 4) shapes it up with undeniable energy, even -- dare I say it? -- pizzazz. Perhaps, as manager of B2K, IMX and others, promoting the home team comes naturally to Stokes. It's easy to poke fun -- particularly when the showdown is hosted by Li'l Kim (who isn't exactly li'l) amid so much hoopla for MTV it made me throw up a little -- but the pops, locks, swoops and flips are quite amazing, regardless of what you've seen before in films with even sillier names. The thug-wear fashions are completely tiresome and the "big prize money" is probably less than the average movie exec takes home as a monthly bonus, but otherwise the movie is reasonably, um -- what's the word this week? Tight?

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Gregory Weinkauf
Contact: Gregory Weinkauf