SPECIAL FEATURE: DVD Review: Turn The Beat Around

Film: Turn The Beat Around
Release date: 21st February 2011
Certificate: 12
Running time: 85 mins
Director: Bradley Walsh
Starring: Romina D'Ugo, David Giuntoli , Adam T. Brooks, Brooklyn Sudano, Shauna MacDonald
Genre: Drama
Studio: Anchor Bay
Format: DVD
Country: Canada

This is an English-language release.

An established commercials director and music video director and producer, Bradley Walsh has enjoyed a long partnership with MTV. This is his first feature-length film, made for MTV in Canada and now available in the UK.

Zoe (Romina D’Ugo) is a dancer trying to make the big-time in LA. Like many of her dancer friends, she is currently working a ‘survival job’ in her stepfather’s shop, and going to every audition that comes up without much success. She is constantly battling against Malika, a choreographer with the power to make or break dancers, and who seems to have a vendetta against Zoe. She cannot even count on support from her mother, herself a failed dancer who wants Zoe to make something of her life, rather than wasting away the years dreaming of being a dancer while never breaking out of a dead-end job.

A way out of this situation comes in the form of Michael (David Guintoli), a young, successful club owner. When Zoe and her boyfriend, Chris (Adam T. Brooks), go out one night, she meets Michael and they get talking about the success of the club. Zoe boldly proposes that he should revive the 1970s by starting a new disco.

After initial reservations, Michael agrees to find a venue and test out the idea with a disco party, employing Zoe as ‘disco expert’. She sets to work hiring dancers and devising choreography. However, Zoe’s dream life is short-lived when tensions between Michael and her boyfriend begin to emerge. As if that wasn’t enough, Malika is also threatening to sabotage Zoe’s life in more ways than one…

This is a made-for-TV melodrama about the LA dance world and one girl trying to revolutionise it by bringing back disco. It is about as good as it sounds. The plot is entirely predictable to the point where the viewer could almost feed the characters their lines, and it is so contrived as to make it totally unbelievable.

Zoe is a character we can sympathise with for approximately fifteen minutes, if she’s lucky, before she becomes unbearable. It is clear from the moment that they meet in the club that Zoe and Michael are destined to be together, so Chris is quite right to be wary of this man that his girlfriend seems to be spending all her time with. However, Zoe is apparently unaware of the fact that she is on dangerous ground with her boss and is outraged when she finds that Chris has been cheating on her. This leaves the path conveniently clear for romance between Zoe and Michael - and Chris takes all the blame. Zoe also employs sob-stories about her parents’ divorce and wanting to make her mother proud at the strangest of moments, such as when breaking up with Chris or trying to win her job back. Because of all of this, it is very hard for the viewer to care about the characters or what happens to them, and so it does not make for a very engaging film.

Not content with one genre of dance movie, namely the revival of disco, the writers of this film also chuck in a good lot of hip hop at the beginning before changing tack. They would perhaps be able to pull this off – a hip hop dancer can surely learn all the disco moves she needs in twenty minutes of tuition from her mother – but they also throw in the obligatory ballet-dancer who hates ballet and wants to do hip-hop, disco or pretty much any other style of dance as a side-story. This girl, who patently cannot dance anything other than ballet, is nevertheless signed up by the plucky Zoe for her disco troupe.

Perhaps all of this could be forgiven if the main focus of the film was the dance sequences. Romina D’Ugo is an undeniably talented dancer and there are some genuinely good moments of dance in the film. However, these are too few and far between to make any real impact on the jaded viewer. If the dancing had been the driving force with the plot as a support, then it would have been more enjoyable and could have been judged appropriately on its merits as a dance film. As it is, the dance is very much in the background, leaving the ridiculous plot in the spotlight.

One small positive is that the film’s soundtrack is bearable and fits the genre. Disco classics such as Disco Inferno and, of course, Turn The Beat Around are cover versions by current artists rather than the originals, and it does shamelessly promote Jason Derulo’s single of the moment, but it is the least offensive thing about the film. Walsh is clearly in his comfort zone with music videos and there is an incongruously long sequence about a music video which has little bearing on the main story, but the music is at least upbeat and sets the atmosphere. It’s just that all the other elements of the film are severely deficient.

The fact is that this is a harmless enough movie which teenage girls will probably adore, with its love story, dance and music. Romina d’Ugo is a good dancer and a passable actor, and it is probably asking too much to expect anything more than a one-dimensional story from a director best known for music videos and commercials. But for anyone who cares about film in any meaningful way, this is painful viewing. Although made in Canada, it represents all that is stereotypical about its Los Angeles setting – it is self absorbed and lacks any kind of intelligent discourse.

There is a reason this film never saw a cinema screen; it is distinctly below average, even in comparison with other teen dance dramas. Unless Step Up 2 is your all-time favourite film, in which case this might just be watchable, it is one to steer clear of. KS

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