Dance movies can do one of two things. The first option is the most common; they can choose to let the viewer act as a mere bystander as characters whirl around meaninglessly on a screen. Or, in rare cases, they can shatter the fourth wall between a production and those watching. Narrative, actors, production, and delivery all fitting together like a glove, leading the flick to eagerly reach out and pull audience members along, hand in hand. Emotion packaged alongside every painstakingly choreographed movement, these are the types of films that resonate.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the best option of the two is the latter. A dance movie should offer the type of immersive experience that astonishes and compel any who press play. At its center, a dance movie is still a movie. Just like with a traditional drama or comedy film, a viewer has all the same expectations of entertainment.
Angela Tucker’s All Styles struggles to fulfill this intrinsic conjecture for an average movie-goer. Bragging a star-studded leading cast, Dushaunt Fik-Shun Stegall (who goes by Fik-Shun) plays the title role of Brandon; a dancer caught between two different worlds. Fik-Shun won Season 10 of So You Think You Can Dance, and carries upwards of a million fans glued to his social media accounts. Hip-hop dance is a style in which Fik-Shun reigns supreme, but his acting chops are challenged in All Styles.
Held back by a rehashed tale that serves as mild entertainment, the family dance drama features a college student Brandon (Fik-Shun) who gets kicked out of his old crew, only to form his own while finding his own path in the world. Brandon is a digital hip-hop star; he and his dance crew attract thousands of views to their challenges and general dance videos. His identity is tied up with this community of his – at least until they drop Brandon for skipping a major competition to start college.
“…embarks on a quest to make his own crew out of a gathering of ragtag dancers who specialize in various styles.”
Depressed and lonely, the dancer wastes away his days in his dorm, stuck in the past and putting little effort into carving a new life for himself. In every essence a coming-of-age film, he eventually embarks on a quest to make his own crew out of a gathering of ragtag dancers who specialize in various styles. Hence, the moniker quite literally reflects the story’s theme in All Styles.
Dorky roommate Nate played by 13 Reasons Why actor Keon Motakhaveri, uptight mom/ballet dancer Elizabeth (Glee’s Heather Morris), Lark (Maximum Ride’s Tetona Jackson), and Vernon (24: Legacy’s James Moses Black) are other recognizable names joining Fik-Shun on the cast roster. Motakhaveri offers the most humorous edge to his role, consistent as the feature’s comedic relief actor. Morris also impresses in a character so divergent from her identifying role in uber-successful television show Glee.
A complaint here is a common fallacy with indie films – character development is sorely overlooked. Except in All Styles, it’s missed altogether. Take Brandon for instance. It’s clear he’s ecstatic when he dances and is otherwise disinterested by other things, but there’s no depth in who he is. This was a missed opportunity by both director and actor. Why should we like or empathize with Brandon? What are his wants/dreams/fears? Aspirations along the way?
Left unanswered, the lead character’s lack of depth echoes on the rest of the cast. Layered backstories are also left out of the plot’s context, as are the motivations behind why each character interacts the way they do. Motakhaveri’s Nate is endlessly kind to his moping, negative roommate from the get-go, but what else drives the guy to invest all his time in forming a crew? This is barely explored in the picture. Who is this fundamental character to the larger story?
“What are his wants/dreams/fears? Aspirations along the way?”
Similar drawbacks apply to the other supporting characters featured, both Brandon’s old and new dance crew alike. Other questions will arise for the audience viewing the movie: the most prevalent of which circles the human perspective. Why does a viewer care what happens to Brandon and his friends? Where’s the emotion behind big decisions? No answers to such proverbial questions are awarded.
On the flip side, staging and production are a nicety to behold. Best of all, are the various sequenced dance segments (which take up a comfortable majority of screen time). Lively beats merge with insanely gifted moves led by the irreplaceable talent of Fik-Shun, making All Styles a passable watch.
Offering the usual pleasures a person could derive from any one of the Step Up franchise but failing where the box-office string of wonders succeeded, Tucker’s feature film falls into the first category for bystanders. As a cinematic experience, the teen dance flick gives nothing more than cool choreography performed by actors with minimal connection. It’s devoid of the unmissable charm that Step Up’s cast added to make a tired plot new again. At its best, All Styles is a cheap adaptation of a story that’s been told one too many times before.
All Styles (2018) Directed by Angela Tucker. Written by Angela Tucker and Lauren Domino. Starring Fik-Shun, Keon Motakhaveri, Heather Morris, Tetona Jackson, Taylor Thomas, Hokuto “Hok” Konishi, Kevin Davis Jr., Emilio Dosal, Taylor Pierce, Maho Udo, Jaja Vankava, James Derrick, Anthony Marble.
3.5 out of 10 stars