[30 January 2004]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
Just in time for their feature film debut, the enormously popular B2K has disbanded, due to “cash disputes.” In fact, You Got Served arrives in theaters while rumors are flying as to efforts to reconstitute the group (with Brandy’s brother Ray-J replacing Omarion, no less). Whether this timing means that fans will flock to theaters to see the group as a group—Omari “Omarion” Grandberry, DeMario “Raz-B” Thornton, Dreux “Lil’ Fizz” Frederic, and Jarell “J-Boog” Houston—one last time, or whether they will eventually get back together is not clear. In any case, the ongoing story has made for much drama, notably on 106 & Park.
You Got Served offers considerably less emotional intensity: the rote plot has a dance crew competing for big money, fame, and, of course, their own, briefly disrupted friendship. While the plot is surely rote, the dance scenes (which comprise much of the film’s 93-minute running time) are tremendous. Designed by the boys’ usual choreographer Dave Scott, these numbers are vibrant, explosive, and mostly inventive, pulling from b-boy, mime, ballet, modern dance, pop, cheerleading, and hiphop traditions. Unfortunately, these moments, presided over by local sage Mr. Rad (Steve Harvey) (“We settle it on the floor like men!”), and setting the B2K squad against a team headed by mean, spiky-haired white boy Wade (Christopher Jones), only make the between-numbers machinations seem creakier.
This is not so different from other musicals. Also like other musicals, this one features stiff line readings, ludicrous dialogue (“This crew tried to chump my crew today!”, “Sonny sold us out!”, or even, “You suckers got served!”), and a cloying storyline (amid the dancing, tension between two best friends, and a budding romance, a wholly predictable death leads to rearranged priorities and reconciliation). The primary tension arises between David (Omarion) and Elgin (Marques Houston, cousin to Omarion and J-Boog), longtime best friends and dance crewmates (other mates include the disaffected B2K guys Vick [Raz-B], Rashaan [Lil’ Fizz], and Rico [J-Boog].) David and El fall out over a two-part contrivance: David falls for El’s medical-school-bound sister, Liyah (Jennifer Freeman), and because of this distraction, doesn’t help his boy El with a one-last-time “delivery” for the evil huffy-puffy gangster Emerald (Michael “Bear” Taliferro).
Though it’s never spelled out what they deliver in their colorful backpacks, El is jumped in a crackhouse hallway, where he suffers his beatdown in arty silhouette while David’s finishes dessert with Liyah. So then it’s on. David rushes to the hospital and feels plenty guilty about what’s happened to El, and Liyah tries to convince her brother to ease up on the hating, to no avail. Even the occasional appearance of Meagan Good, as Liyah’s best friend Beautifull (“with two Ls,” she likes to coo), doesn’t soften up El’s stubborn resolve.
Determined to carry on despite their trumped-up trauma, each puts together a crew to dance off for a $5,000 prize from MTV and a chance to perform in a Lil’ Kim video. This means that the final showdown will be a major performance, hosted by La La Vasquez and wunderkind choreographer Wade Robson. It also means that Kim plays herself at the showdown (emceed by Wade Robson himself), giddily inviting the final two crews to battle “street style”: “You know how I like it baby,” she declares, “Straight hood.”
Amid this superficial plotty mess, the movie also works as a strangely mesmerizing gloss on the nasty intricacies of the music business. Specifically, its tangled production pedigree says something—precisely what is unclear—about the current difficulties of B2K (The Boys of the New Millennium).
For one thing, You Got Served is directed by the group’s manager, Chris Stokes (cousin to Raz-B), whose previous directing experience includes music videos and 2001’s House Party 4. He also happens to manage IMx, formerly Immature, the group that launched Marques Houston’s solo career. Surely, it’s only complicated coincidence that Stokes “discovered” Brandy, whose brother is lined up to replace O as lead singer for B2K, even following rumors that Raz-B, J-Boog, and Lil’ Fizz have signed an “advisor and business agreement” with another management company, CMX. Stokes remains the manager of Marques Houston and Omarion, whose first solo album is set for a March release.
Stokes’ official response to the breakup is posted on the T.U.G. Entertainment website, expressing his “shock”: “They are like my sons, and I can’t understand how, or why they would do this, but if the boys can hear my voice now, I want them to know that I love them and I wish them the best. Plus, I am surprised because they are still under contract with me. I love all of you and all of the fans out there. Please pray for B2K.” The statement is actually longer than this, but the line about the contract creeps in at the end, a detail that, oh dear, must have slipped the minds of his erstwhile son-like clients. (Omarion, for his part, has retreated from initial upset at the walk-out, telling MTV News he’d like to “get back together” with the others, following his solo projects, because “I think people would enjoy it.”)
The tumult has certainly been immense for the famously enthusiastic B2K fans. This makes the film’s rather weak representation of at least one source of tension—Omarion getting all the attention—something like the proverbial car wreck, simultaneously hard to see and hard to turn away from. At least the dance scenes supply their own, more potent, mini-dramas, so the rest of it becomes less salient.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/you-got-served/