In the realm of urban dance films, a clearly defined formula is starting to develop. Canadian writer-director Robert Adetuyi's Beat the World is a case in point.
1. There has to be a quest - usually winning a competition of some sort. In Adetuyi's story, the Holy Grail is the $100,000 first prize at Detroit's Beat the World contest.
2. There has to be a new spin on urban dance. Beat the World features, for the first time on screen, a blend of hip-hop and parkour.
3. There has to be conflict. The good guys are Fusion, a dance crew from Windsor, Ont., across the river from Detroit. The bad guys are The Flying Steps from Berlin, the current Beat the World champions. There is even a third group, Rio de Janeiro's Revolution, thrown into the mix for sex appeal.
4. There has to be a serious problem inside the group. Fusion's lead dancer is having girlfriend troubles that are affecting his performance. Rio's manager is a gambler who loses the crew's travel money on a soccer game bet. The Flying Steps' lead dancer, Eric, threatens to pull out when co-dancer Nina is made choreographer instead of him.
5. Problems have to get resolved at the 11th hour, after putting the audience through nail-biting tension.
And yes, Beat the World is this predictable. So if the audience is not there for the story - which is clearly just a hat to hang the dance on - they must be there for the dance.
Unfortunately, because Adetuyi's film is actually one very long music video, the dance portions are shot in 30-second bites, so one never gets a sense of an entire routine. All we get is fast-cut teasers. A documentary would have served parkour better.
Parkour enters the picture because Fusion's leader, Yuson (Tyrone Brown), is introducing new moves into the group's routine in order to wow the judges. Justin (Chase Armitage), who is from England, is Fusion's parkour teacher.
Taken from a French military training tool, parkour involves negotiating an obstacle course by the fastest and most direct route. Free running is the dance version of parkour because it allows for creative, showy movements while getting through the obstacles. The terms have become interchangeable.
In a crowded inner city, parkour/free running means vaulting, spinning, jumping and flying up, down and all around buildings at astonishing speed. The scenes in which Justin and his buddies hurl themselves through alleys, up walls, and over rooftops are breathtaking. What Yuson wants to incorporate into Fusion are parkour's dramatic gymnastics.
Los Angeles-based Adetuyi clearly knows what urban dance audiences want in a movie. His screenwriting credits include the street dance film Stomp the Yard and the hip-hop film Turn it Up, which he also directed. Beat The World has sensational dance sequences meticulously shot to accentuate virtuosity.
Considering they are first and foremost dancers, the cast pull off their characters quite well. Christian Loclair as Eric, the manipulative, womanizing Flying Steps leader, is particularly effective. Adding to the local colour are scenes shot in Berlin and Rio.
There is one big problem: All the other dance crews are better than Fusion. The Flying Steps, Revolution and, in guest cameos, Japan's Gogo Brothers and Toronto's Baby Boyz perform far more compelling routines. If the big prize of $100,000 goes to a deserving dance group, it should be one of these. There aren't enough parkour moves - or, frankly, any stand-out moves - to elevate Fusion to the winner's circle.
Beat the World
- Written and directed by Robert Adetuyi
- Starring Tyrone Brown, Mishael Morgan, Christian Loclair, Lil' Steph, Shane Pollard, Lil' C and Kristy Flores
- Classification: PG
Special to the Globe and Mail