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How She Move

Thanks to earnest performances and flat-out amazing dancing, the fairly predictable inner-city drama of How She Move feels surprisingly fresh.


Ambitious high schooler Raya (Rutina Wesley) is sure she's on her way to the Ivy League when she gets into prestigious Seaton Academy. But then her older sister dies of a drug overdose, and she's forced to return to the crime-heavy Toronto neighborhood she thought she'd left behind--at least until she can win a scholarship. Fitting back in at home isn't easy; former friends like Michelle (Tre Armstrong) feel betrayed by Raya's ''desertion,'' and Raya herself doesn't have much patience for their partying and lack of motivation. But then she rediscovers her passion for step dancing and becomes the first girl to join competitive guys' crew JSJ, which is led by charismatic Bishop (Dwain Murphy). Before they can win the Step Monster showdown in Detroit, though, Raya has a lot to learn about teamwork, loyalty--and (surprise) herself.


Many of the stars of How She Move are newcomers--it's Wesley's first screen role--and they bring a refreshing earnestness to their performances. Raya's story may not be particularly original, but Wesley makes her feel like a real girl with real problems. Similarly, Armstrong gives Michelle a few more layers than the average ''frenemy'' character has, and Melanie Nicholls-King is sympathetic and believable as Raya's Jamaican immigrant mom, Faye, who's determined not to lose another daughter to the streets. The male characters aren't quite as well-developed as the women, but Murphy is charming as Bishop, and Brennan Gademans has some great moments as his brother, Quake. ''Bad guy'' Garvey (Cle Bennett)--a rival step crew leader--is pretty one-note, but his gravelly voiced cockiness has its own appeal.


All of that said, the main attraction of How She Move--which debuted at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival--isn't the acting, it's the stepping. Whether the characters are confronting each other in one-on-one ''step offs'' (which, despite their artistic skill, are a bit giggle-worthy) or competing in all-out crew competitions, their complex, rhythmic, acrobatic routines are flat-out amazing. Director Ian Iqbal Rashid and cinematographer Andre Pienaar film all of the action in a gritty, washed-out style that give it a more sophisticated edge than many MTV films (maybe they should acquire more films in Park City...), which helps you take the characters and their passions as seriously as the movie does. Though it's never hard to guess how Raya's tale will turn out, watching How She Move's dancers step their stuff will take your mind off the predictability.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 1/2 stars.