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School Dance (Review)

 

"School Dance jumps around from one overarching idea to the next, with the film lacking any sort of cohesive outline of ideas it wants to release and market."    

 

by Steve Pulaski

The best part of rapper/actor/Television host Nick Cannon's directorial debut School Dance are the end credits, and I do not mean that in a smarmy, sarcastic way. During the end credits, before the obligatory blooper reel, which goes on far too long and, like the film itself, thinks it's funnier than it is, there is an outrageous music video showing a bloated, overweight Nick Cannon dancing and gorging himself with spray-cheese, with numerous bikini-clad women with gorgeous figures dancing, gyrating, and twerking around him while he does his "hater dance" to one of the most addicting rap songs I've heard in quite a while. Luckily, the film comes on video-on-demand outlets, so one could easily rent the film and skip to its best part without having to be burdened by the preceding seventy-seven minutes of utter comedic drivel.

School Dance is one of those urban films that tries ever-so-hard to live up to the comedic heights of the genre, set forth by films like F. Gary Gray's timeless Friday and Kid 'n Play's creature-of-its-time House Party but simply cannot hold a candle to their kind of material. The film is a poorly-executed attempt, mistaking repetition as the ingredient to a successful joke, using over-the-top stereotypes for outlets to evoke sympathy, and mixing together numerous different genres and coming of age footnotes to create one of the year's biggest hodgepodges and comedic miscalculations.

School Dance
Directed by Nick Cannon
Cast Bobb'e J. Thompson, Luenell, Mike Epps
Release Date 2 July 2014
Steve's Grade: D-

The plot is more like a discombobulated conglomeration of characters, outrageous stereotypes, and noise, but it follows your everyday high schooler named Jason Jackson (Bobb'e J. Thompson), who desperately wants to be noticed and adored by his crush, the gorgeous Anastacia (pronounced "Anna-sta-she-ah" and played by Kristinia DeBarge). Being that she is part of "The Sweet Girls," one of their high school's many dance cliques, made up of equally-gorgeous Latinas, Jason decides to try out for the most popular male dance group in his school, which is "The Rangers," made up of some of the cockiest goofballs you can imagine. One of the only tolerable and funny scenes throughout the whole film is watching "The Rangers" play the urban game "The Dozens" with another dance clique, which shows extreme talent on part of the performers for rhyme and lyrical delivery.

In order to be initiated into the group, however, Jason must find a way to score a pair of panties from one of "The Sweet Girls," which Jason plans to do at the annual school dance/lock-in, where the high school holds an all-night party where the students can miraculously do all the drugs and alcohol and engage in all the debauchery they want and somehow not get reprimanded by the school's staff. Jason has till midnight the night of the school dance to score the underwear, and also has to fend off his hurricane of a mother, the voluptuous, gun-toting Mamma Tawanna (Luenell), who could pass for Madea's replacement if Tyler Perry is no longer willing.

The first issue I have with School Dance involves its odd focus at times, which one of my colleagues called "fetishistic." That is an accurate label, with numerous scenes focusing on crude comments about vaginas, a slow-motion kiss scene between Jason and his mom, the repetitive use of one police officer's name "P'eniss" (if that doesn't scream screenwriting desperation, I don't know what does), the constant panhandling of Anastacia's character as a beautiful combination of bust and buttocks, until the plot decides to hit sentimental undertones at the end, and even an exhaustive line of sexual crudeness that strays so far from the wit that the film should be nearing that it nearly becomes unwatchable. The abundance of jokes that fall flat on their face are astonishing, mainly because writers Cannon and Nile Evans think like prepubescent teenagers, hyped up on energized after their eight winning game of "Call of Duty" and one too many Mountain Dews, thinking of everything that is allegedly funny to throw in the characters' mouths.

Another issue is how School Dance jumps around from one overarching idea to the next, with the film lacking any sort of cohesive outline of ideas it wants to release and market. Sometimes, the film wants to be a constant sensory spectacle, conducting itself like a music video with a sound-and-lights show, showcasing complex dancing and banging rap music. Other times, it wants to focus on the characters' outlandish behavior at this vastly unrealistic and unbelievable high school, emphasizing characters like the horribly unfunny and unnecessary Principal Rogers, played by Mike Epps, and petty street characters like the obnoxious Kevin Hart, who seems to be adlibbing his lines to minimal effect. Then, at the end, the film pulls the cloying three-sixty of being sentimental, with a literal bullet being taken for somebody, and ending a long, drawn-out night filled with inconsequential adolescent behavior, boring and uninspired dialog, and characters that are drawn in such broadstrokes that they resemble those extracted straight from a tolerance pamphlet about stereotypes and caricaturing.

Nick Cannon is a workaholic in show business, to say the least. At the young age of thirty-three, Cannon has relaunched an MTV program, become the CEO of a Television network, founded a moderately successful rap career for himself, has himself a medium-length film resume, and works to make passion projects realities with his entrepreneurship. After overtaking many of these projects, Cannon hardly made a blip on the film radar, after rising to some branch of stardom with his early-to-mid 2000's projects like Drumline and Underclassman, but his return isn't something to relish if School Dance is an indicator of what's to come from him in the future. This is an odious example of excess and creative control on a project taken to the point when it seemed that an outsider's suggestion was shot down like a venomous online attack by Cannon.

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