High School Musical excepted, dance figures now in teen movies mostly as competitive sport. Either it's an NBA-like ticket out, as in Save the Last Dance, or it's an NFL-like face-off, as in Stomp the Yard. In this diverting Canadian drama, it's both. A step-dancing contest's big-money payoff lures a studious inner-city girl (Rutina Wesley) to join an all-male neighborhood dance crew, in hopes of getting the private-school tuition her working-poor Jamaican parents can't afford. For once, the movie written by Annmarie Morais and directed by Ian Iqbal Rashid (Touch of Pink) with an overlay of 16mm grain regards book learning to be as important as physical prowess. Wesley's tenacious heroine embodies this, as does her crew captain's day-saving little brother (Brennan Gademans), a bespectacled sharpie who proves as well-versed in bustin' moves as he is in Tolstoy. Apart from the exuberant athleticism of the step battles choreographed by Hi-Hat with equal room for grace, physical wit, and aggression, if not always sympathetically shot or edited the movie's chief appeal is its largely unknown cast. Especially good are Wesley, whose expressions are a study in shifting thought, and Tre Armstrong as her street-hardened but good-hearted rival, a stock role that Armstrong fills with unmediated feeling.
Ian Iqbal RashidTre Armstrong, Boyd Banks, Clé Bennett, Ardon Bess, Conrad Coates, Keyshia Cole, Eve Crawford, DeRay Davis, Shawn Fernandez, Nina DobrevAnnemarie MoraisBrent Barclay, Jennifer Kawaja, Julia SerenyParamount Vantage