Freak Dance
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Freak Dance

Occasionally opening the latest round of screeners submitted for review is reminiscent of the old gold rush days. I can easily identify with the old prospector squatting at the river bank diligently panning for gold. He carefully examines the muddy water hoping for that unmistakable glint that dignifies he has located something worthwhile. Many of the movies I come across are like that. There is far more slit than mineral. The other day I opened such a package that contained a flick called ‘Freak Dance. At first glance it looked like another in a long line of cheap and fast gross out comedies with little if any redeeming qualities. The cover depicted a young man in dancer tights and headband in mid air, his legs in a perfect 180 degree split. My eyes rolled back in my head as I steeled myself to get through it when I noticed the name Amy Poehler on the cover. She has been in sizable number of very funny films not to mention being one of the more talented alumni of the recent Saturday Night Live series. That did raise my hopes significantly but what really caught my attention was the notation on the cover proclaiming "A Film by Upright Citizen’s Brigade’. This was an improvisational and sketch comedy troupe that began in the nineties with a series running on Comedy Central for three seasons late in that decade. It was somewhat of an acquired taste as such shows go but it distinguished itself with a reputation for being innovative, outlandish and extremely off the beaten track of network comedy. It was also part of the early training of comedians like Ms Poehler. As a lifelong fan of such irreverent humor I still enjoy revisiting my collection of their TV episodes whenever I need a jolt in my mood. These circumstances more than made up for the ridiculous and misleading cover art so with a renewed enthusiasm I popped the disc into my player and sat back to revisit some old friends. It turns out that the connection to ‘The Brigade’ is a bit more tenuous with little more than a cameo by Poehler and Ian Roberts but it was written by founding member Matt Besser and co-written by Neil Mahoney , a contributor to the satiric web site ‘Funny or Die".

The film is a loose and admittedly silly satire of the plethora of dance flicks in the ilk of franchises such as ‘Step It Up’ or any one of dozens of other variations on the theme substituting gymnastics or cheerleading for ‘extreme’ dance’. The genre does appear to thrive as demonstrated by the constant releases of these films and the entire dance oriented television shows that are proliferating. Cocolonia (Megan Heyn) is teenage girl with a problem. Her mother ((Amy Poehler) refuses to permit the girl to express herself through dance. I guess the neighborhood video rental store didn’t stock ‘Footloose’ so Mom was dangerously unaware of the crucial importance of dancing to the social and psychological development of the youth. Cocolonia has no other option but to hit the streets in search of an urban dance crew to join. She readily locates one, ‘The Funky Bunch’, and true to form they respond to any perceived challenge with dance. Now their video store obviously had copies of ‘West side Story’, a film that demonstrated the violence and lethal dangers inherent with choreographed street gangs. The leader of the group, The Fantaseez Crew, is the intrinsically talented Funky Bunch, (Michael Daniel Cassady), is determined to rise to the ranks of the world’s greatest dancer. I’m reasonably certain Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly most definitely did not start their careers in this fashion. The crew rehearses in the oasis of arts in the area, the Fantaseez Community Center. For those that have seen any flicks remotely similar to this realize the perky community center is doomed, scheduled to be permanently closed smashing the dreams of Mr. Bunch and his entire troupe, I mean, gang. The personification of evil behind this dastardly action is "Building Inspector General" (Matt Besser). He is more than the epitome of the uncaring bureaucrat; he is truly evil in the Snidely Whiplash sort of way. The clock is ticking before the Inspector General and a rival gang bangs dancers from talking away their special place. I admit having seen knife fights with Grand jeté; I would have greatly enjoyed watching a drive by Pas de basque.

The main thing to remember while watching this movie is it was never intended to have any aspect of it taken seriously. The entire methodology at the formation of the Brigade is to poke the establishment and ridicule the status quo. Besser returns to his former insight into off kilter humor with the construction and execution of this film. Nicely played it does not come across as an extended episode of his former series. It remains true to the fundamentals that made the Brigade an underground hit but over the intervening years Besser has sharpened his wit and escalated his delivery to lampoon the intrinsic foolishness of these dance off flicks. Holding on to the format under the gun he sprinkles the offering with energetic dance numbers with a twisted nerdy precision that elevates this movie to greater heights than you might expect. Unlike the myriad of similar films taking on horror flicks, Besser crafts his spoof by actually making the kind of film he is ridiculing. He has created a parody from within the format rather than as an external heckler. This movie will entertain and can easily be enjoyed throughout many subsequent viewings. Don’t judge a DVD by its cover, bring this one home and have some fun.

Posted 07/06/12

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