The direct-to-DVD sequel Center Stage: Turn It Up arrives just in time to step up 2 the plate, rizing to reveal how she move and bringing it on in a last (dirty, flash) dance in order to stick it to those needing to get served. It reeks of cash-in so strongly, I'm surprised the paint-by-numbers grid doesn't show up on screen. Still, while its plot and characters break down the term "formula" and redefine it from the ground up, the movie is, for the most part, tolerable. It's just another carbon-copy, star-free, low-budget nothing; an identical link in a chain of product that hits the low expectations of its target audience without a whiff of individuality or creativity in its entire runtime.
We first meet our heroine Kate Parker (Rachele Brook Smith) at one of those breakdance rendezvous points at night in the city you hear so much about, where she mixes hip-hop dancing with ballerina moves to the approving awe of her dancing peers (nothing impresses the popping-and-locking crowd more than some perfectly executed twirls). See, dancing's her thing. She's trying to get into the prestigious New York Ballet Academy, but is crushed when she finds that her modern style is just too edgy for stiffs like instructor Jonathan Reeves (Peter Gallagher), who picks the classically-trained Suzanne Von Stroh (Sarah Jayne Jensen) instead, to the disappointment of his assistant Cooper Nielson (Ethan Steifel). The question (and what a question!) is: will Kate's trailblazing, dance-style crossover catch on in some spectacular way that will show up Suzanne, win her the affection of a hip student (Kenny Wormald) and prove to Mr. Reeves (nay, the world) that she's got what it takes to turn it up?
Oh, where do I begin? I'm entirely not the audience for this girly romance, but some of this movie is forehead-slappingly stupid. I wish I lived in a world where everything was solved with the power of dance. Much like a musical, where people break into song, sometimes the characters of Center Stage: Turn It Up will blow everyone's mind with an impromptu danceformance, such as the early scene where Kate not only thrills an entire club with her stylish moves, but scores a job and impresses a guy (later she even dances him into bed with her), and the even funnier "angry dance", in which her character's frustration is illustrated through furious thrashing. The film's also a monument to twisty, character based intensity: high drama in the film includes the main character eating an entire Snickers bar all by herself in front of other ballerinas (Kate's a regular Patty Hearst), and the mere mention of hockey (hockey!) at an upscale party.
The performances are pretty middle-of-the-road, although they occasionally creak under the weight of the movie's dramatic demands. Rachele Brook Smith (almost indistinguishable from her Fired Up! co-star Daneel Harris) spends the entire movie with the same forced grin on her face, and throws around lines like "I'm dress rehearsal, and she's opening night?" as if nobody's going to get hurt. Her co-star Kenny Womald fares a little better, but his fake Bawston accent and slightly stilted delivery trip him up from time to time. They're both fairly genial when not called upon to act, which makes up at least 45% of Turn It Up's 95 minutes, but yeah, these are not Oscar-caliber performances. Director Steven Jacobson barely registers a pulse, rarely exhibiting enough energy to go beyond the "point-and-shoot" school of filmmaking.
The movie's conceit is the biggest problem: while the fusion of formal dancing and hip-hop bump-and-grind might have looked pretty cool on paper, watching Kate segue from twirly ballerina formality to crunk-dancing is unintentionally hilarious. I chose to review the movie because I've seen ads for recent theatrical dance movies and I thought a few massive, slickly choreographed sequences might have been enough to sustain my interest, but instead, the film feels like really long stretch to drag the apparently established (?) Center Stage name up to current cultural trends. The film's ties to its predecessor are limited to the underwritten supporting characters played by Gallagher (playing his few scenes with the enthusiasm of a man doing another man a favor) and Stiefel, the briefest, most ridiculous love rival (the triangle lasts a single scene!) I've ever seen in a movie. "Damn," he enthuses to Kate, "You know how to dance. And I've seen a lot of dance!"
I doubt there's anything I can say to encourage those who want to watch Center Stage: Turn It Up to see something better, so I'll leave it at this: it's unoriginal, uninteresting, poorly written and cheaply produced, and it's not that it's just lazy, but practically designed to avoid surprising the audience (it ends on a freeze frame, for crying out loud). The qualities of movies are often dismissed with the sentiment that "it's not high art, it's just meant to be fun", but watching a completely predictable direct-to-DVD sequel instead of something a little more clever or inspired is kind of like snacking on dirt because it's cheaper than food.
The single-width DVD comes in a loud, pastel-colored foil slipcover highlighting scantily clad dancing and lip gloss, slathered in quotes from female critics with the same art underneath. No insert is included, and the disc features a full-color picture also found on the case. The menu actually prompts you to choose from one of four languages (likely Thai, Portuguese and Korean), but it's so basic I bet you could figure it out in any language.
A washed-out, ever-so-slightly soft 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen accurately makes this direct-to-video cheapie look like, well, a direct-to-video cheapie. The club scenes, with their flashy, colorful lighting schemes and dark interiors can get a little mushy when it comes to contrast, but I didn't see any compression errors or digital flaws.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is generally used to blast the generic pop rock and hip-hop songs that score the movie's dance sequences. Dialogue is crisp and clear, but this is a pretty straightforward mix. No less than four other languages are included, allowing you to enjoy Center Stage: Turn It Up in Spanish, Thai and Portuguese 5.1, and French 2.0 stereo, and the film is also subtitled in Chinese on top of tracks for all of the previously mentioned languages.
Two brief special features are included. "A Look Behind the Curtain" (12:39) is your basic EPK, which features lots of contributions from Peter Gallagher and Ethan Stiefel to reassure skeptical Center Stage fans that the sequel will be worth their time, and "The Choreography of Center Stage: Turn It Up - From Classroom to Club" (15:45) focuses on the fusion of dance styles. Both are as forgettable as the movie, but fans of the movie and aspiring dancers will probably like the behind-the-scenes footage of the actors in training.
Automatic trailers for Sony Blu-Ray, Private Valentine: Blonde & Dangerous, Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway, and "Girls Night In" movies from Sony start the disc, and additional ads for Librarian 3: The Curse of the Judas Chalice, Blonde Ambition, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, Stomp the Yard, the movie Rent, 13 Going on 30 and the original Center Stage are available under special features. Since Center Stage: Turn It Up isn't a theatrical movie, there is no theatrical trailer.
Skip it. Anyone looking for that special mixture of ballerinas and teen romance would probably be better off renting the undoubtedly superior original instead of this derivative, stupid sequel.
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