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You Got Served

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 02/25/05 15:57:54

"Because 'Subpoena This, Mofo' isn't as snazzy a title."
1 stars (Sucks)

“You Got Served” is a perfect example of why folks in the music business shouldn’t always step over into the movie business. The film is written and directed by Christopher B. Stokes; before making the direct-to-video “House Party 4,” he was the manager for such acts as IMX and B2K. In fact, members of both groups appear in Stokes’ theatrical debut in lead roles, as do rapper Lil’ Kim, MTV host “La La,” and video choreographer Wade Robson, all in cameo parts, all probably favors for a pal.

The film is loaded with some great dancing, but it also reminds us of that old musical producer’s paradox: should you hire a dancer who can’t act or an actor who can’t dance? Stokes went with the dancers who can’t act, and while the choreography impresses (mostly - more on that later), the actual story bombs, as does the entire cast, whose acting talents range from the passable to the cringe-inducing.

The story: Elgin (Marques Houston) and David (Omari Grandberry) are partners in the city’s most successful dance gang - they’re “like Shaq and Kobe together,” but with more dancing and less rape charges, natch. They win every challenge at nightly danceoffs held in a warehouse owned by community nice guy Mr. Rad (Steve Harvey, who’s required by law to be in everything these days). Then they get a challenge from some white boys out of Orange County, who wind up winning by stealing Elgin and David’s best moves.

Elgin’s also involved in running drugs for the neighborhood kingpin, while David’s falling in love with Elgin’s sister, Liyah (Jennifer Freeman). Tensions mount between the two friends over both issues, and soon they break up the dance crew. But will they reunite for the big dance-off at the end, where they can show up the white boys by popping and maybe, just maybe, also locking?

Now, maybe fans of hip-hop dancing won’t mind so much that the story blows, but it sure bugged me. Stokes’ script is a mess of predictable clichés and unresolved subplots. There’s one arbitrary character added just so he can be killed off near the end for cheap dramatic effect; there’s another character who’s introduced in an early scene as a traitor to the group, but he and his story quickly disappear, the tension between him and our heroes forgotten as quickly as it’s introduced; there’s another major plotline that’s wrapped up so neatly with just a few lines of dialogue that I wonder if Stokes forgot about it in an early draft and just tossed in this cheap, laughable solution after the fact. It’s a plotline on which so much tension hangs, and then it’s just tossed away in a blink. Sloppy.

Worst of all is the handling of the David-Elgin conflict. The film spends so much time setting up the white boys as the baddies, only to completely dump that line in order to focus on the leads’ fighting instead. But then that gets cleaned up way too neatly in order to return the white boys into the picture. Nothing ever gels here. It’s as if Stokes was so concerned in making workable scenes that he forgot to fit them into a workable whole.

All of this is redeemed, slightly, by some impressive dancing, but even that gets bungled at times. The dancing is presented as a showdown between two competing groups, but Stokes’ direction is so careless that we’re oftentimes left unsure of which crew we’re watching. Everyone’s crews come with countless extras we’ve never seen before, and so when they jump in and pull off some nice moves, we’re not entirely sure if we should be cheering or booing. Not even the clumsy exposition given by La La during the final dance-offs helps things out; in fact, she just gets in the way.

I think I’d like to see a documentary on street dancing. There’s obviously a subculture hinted at here that’s worth spotlighting. But instead, all we get with “You Got Served” is a weak update of “Beat Street” or “Breakin’.” Stokes shows he has no eye for filmmaking and storytelling, and there’s nothing worthwhile here that fills the void between dance numbers. A movie with this much dancing should be crackling with electricity. Instead, this is simply no fun, a limp hip-hop flick without a single spark.

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