Maniac on the Floor
Shoshana Bush, Damon Wayans Jr., Essence Atkins, Affion Crockett, Luis Dalmasy, Chris Elliott, Christina Murphy, David Alan Grier, Amy Sedaris, Kim Wayans
US theatrical: 22 May 2009 (General release)
UK theatrical: 18 Sep 2009 (General release)
What are you willing to do for your art? No matter what, Mr. Moody (Marlon Wayans) insists to a room full of high school students, you must maintain your dignity. You might grovel and pander, you might play a character in a “disgusting, racist, stereotypical movie,” you might even “lose your manhood.” To illustrate this last, the teacher steps over to a cocky-looking white kid and kisses him on the mouth. The other students gasp. Mr. Moody pulls back, looks out on the wide-eyed faces all around him, and announces, “I gave up my manhood twice!”
So it goes with Dance Flick. As expected, the latest Wayans outing is crass, obnoxious, and smug. So what if its target is easy or its jokes offensive? And really, does anyone care whether the plot holds together or Shoshana Bush is anointed the next Anna Faris? Written by most of the Wayans (Keenen Ivory, Shawn, Marlon, Craig, and Damien), starring Damon Jr., and employing most everyone else in the family as caricatures ranging from insipid to amusing, the movie does just what you expect: it points out generic clichés, takes on the usual race and gender stereotypes, and provides a couple of clever asides as well, like a muttered list of colors for “loud-ass suits,” including “Flavor Flav Eyes Yellow” and “Djimon Honsou Black.”
Like the Wayans’ previous genre spoofs (Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, Scary Movie), Dance Flick is more a series of scenes than a movie. Thomas (Damon, Jr.) and A-Con (Affion Crockett) set up something like a plot when their crew gets served at a dance battle (run by bald, buck-toothed Keenan Ivory). Ostensibly, this means they’re desperate to win some prize money, somewhere, in order to repay a debt to Sugar Bear (David Alan Grier in a humungous fat suit). As the boys ponder their options, they spend an evening at Club Violence, where Thomas meets the new girl at Musical High School, Megan (Bush). She’s a former ballerina undone by guilt over her mother’s death following a collision with a “Cheney Oil” truck and subsequent encounters with cars featuring the license plates “Lindsay,” “Brandy,” and “Halle.” (This segment of her flashbacked backstory grants the film a chance to lampoon the current economy, with witnesses to the accident so obsessed with getting free gas that they leave her to blow up with her car.) Now stuck in squalor with her dad (Chris Elliot as Terry Kinney), Megan seeks a way to express herself. How lucky that she finds a new self to express.
As in Save the Last Dance, Thomas teaches Megan to dance “hiphop” while his sister, Charity (Essence Atkins), instructs her in “black” dress and affect. A single mom who brings her baby to school (parking him in her locker during classes), Charity explains that she hangs out with Keloid (Sufe Bradshaw) and Uglisha (Yves Lola St. Vil) because they make her look good by comparison. It’s not a bad point to make regarding the ways high school movies organize their supporting casts, but it’s hardly news. Neither is the walking gag of a dance teacher, Ms. Cameltoé (Amy Sedaris), or the principal, Ms. Dontwannabebothered (Kim Wayans), whose names suffice to describe their brief functions here (that said, Wayans’ little twirlaway move in the school hallway and up the stairs is rather perfectly weird).
These and other parodies come fast and furious: mean girl Nora (Christina Murphy), blind student Ray (George Gore II), flaming Jack (Brennan Hillard) (who sings, to the tune of Fame‘s “I Wanna Live Forever,” “I will be gay forever!”), and big-haired Tracy Transfat (Chelsea Makela), who somehow can’t see just how gay Jack is. While the efforts are energetic, the effects are hit and miss. In part this is a problem in the premise: the films under attack—like hood movies, slasher films, “white chick” rom-coms—are essentially and self-confessedly cliché machines in their first incarnations. And so, piling on with parody mostly seems less clever than unoriginal (see Fox’s Glee for wittier, less dated versions of the same jokes).
The question posed by Mr. Moody is thus exactly right and deeply irrelevant. The quick-cut close-ups of Thomas’ leotarded body parts during a lazy evocation of Flashdance don’t precisely mean he’s giving up his manhood or keeping his dignity and integrity either. Instead, Dance Flick delivers what you know it will—fat jokes, dead parent jokes, gay jokes, race jokes, girl jokes, and boy jokes. The comedy is trivial, the formula mundane, and the full-employment opportunities for the Wayans impressive. It can’t be surprising that the movie is unsurprising.