Sunday, August 9, 2020

Step Down: WORK IT

Work It is the sort of teen dance movie that would’ve been a modest theatrical hit and then go on to run endlessly on TBS or something if it had been released two or three decades ago. It’s not involving, exactly, but it’s thoroughly watchable, even if you let it fade into the background of your household chores. Just look over every once in a while for the dancing. It’s a chipper, inoffensive, amiable movie about putting on a show and finding yourself with a safe ensemble where even the antagonists aren’t all that threatening and the stakes are never too high. The cast is clean-cut and cute — in the just-aged-out-of-sugary-tween-adjacent-TV-roles sort of way — and have the moves for the choreography, which is athletic and impressive while held to a level just below a Step Up movie. (A shame those ran their course; that series was a lot of fun while it lasted.) The same middle-of-the-road, just-good-enough approach is also in Alison Peck’s screenplay’s simple plotting, which finds a plucky high school senior (Sabrina Carpenter) inadvertently letting her dream college’s admissions interviewer assume she’s on the dance team. Problem is she can’t make the dance team, and they despise her for messing up the lighting board at their last show. So she and her dancer friend (Liza Koshy) recruit a team of misfits and an initially-reluctant young dance coach (Jordan Fisher) to be an underdog new team that’ll hopefully solve every character’s little problems and maybe, just maybe, win the big competition. You know where it’s going even if you don’t.

That it is streaming on Netflix gives it the replay ability that would’ve been cable's key to cementing it in a young audience’s consciousness, without the theatrical boost that would’ve made it seem more legitimate. For movies like this, the delivery system collapses the distance between TV movie and the real deal. It looks and moves like an extended sitcom. Director Laura Terruso matches the material by keeping it brightly lit, digitally clear, and simply staged, which simply shows off the dancing and gives some space to the performers to bounce mild banter back and forth. There’s even-keel energy, over-enunciated dialogue, overwritten narration, and go-with-the-flow formulaic plot progression that never fluctuates off a middling baseline. It’s not much else. But there’s room to be charmed by movies like this, especially if you haven’t seen too many like it before. More often than not it’s pleasantly as good as it can be without being for me. Younger audiences might get into this more than I could, especially since (or is that “hopefully because”?) it’s much better than other popular Netflix Teen Movies like The Kissing Booths or Tall Girl. The cast is appealing and the dancing is good and that’s what this is all about.

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