In the same vein of “Step Up,” “Stomp the Yard” and “Save the Last Dance” comes the new dance-driven film, “How She Move.” It’s the same clichés, twists and turns of plot – same everything, really, right down to the epic dance finale. This new genre of dance/musically-gifted-teen-overcoming-the-odds-to-shine has begun to take over the classic high school angst films that were so popular in the ’80s and ’90s. Its too bad “How She Move” has nothing really new to add to this formula.
When Raya (newcomer Rutina Wesley) loses her sister Pam and the money to pay for private school runs out, she comes back to her crime and drug-ridden neighborhood. Pam’s death just hangs like a cloud over the film, giving dimension to the familial strain as well as the catalyst for Raya’s actions. Raya’s family spent all her private school tuition money to fight Pam’s addiction. In an attempt to make money for school, Raya falls into a stepping crew in the hopes of winning prize money.
This underlying theme of education is a much more important message than what propels some similar films. “How She Move” is not just about staying true to oneself, it’s a combination of various messages. Raya explains to her disapproving mother that it’s possible to be about schoolwork and stepping. Name-dropping Tolstoy and while having a step-off to prove which of the characters has more skills, oddly gives the movie a more realistic backbone. “How She Move” is grounded in Raya’s need to better herself, not just her need to prove that she can actually move.
Which, of course, she can. Her talents quickly land her on her friend Bishop’s (newcomer Dwain Murphy) step team. The team is hesitant about allowing a girl onboard, but after she proves herself in the auto shop where they rehearse, they begrudgingly let her join. After a betrayal, joining a rival team and familial resolution, the movie culminates in Detroit for the “Step Monster” competition, where the customary montage of step teams show their skills.
Yet the choreography, the real star of the movie, is surprising lacking in energy or excitement. The film makes great use of the dancer-actors, showing them for all their rhythmic abilities, and the cast certainly has skills. With the MTV-generated soundtrack, there should be some more exhilaration with the dance-off at the finale of the film. There isn’t. Maybe it’s because the audience has seen this all before. Maybe it’s because we know exactly what is going to happen. Maybe it’s the holes in the plot, the usual characters, the usual conflicts, or the usual steps. Either way, while Raya can move, the film just can’t do the same for audience.