I must admit, I was more than a little bit excited to sit down this weekend and watch this made-for-TV sequel to Center Stage. I kinda loved the first one [Editor's Note: That movie is my life!!! -- Mindy], and this had everything going for it: the return of real life ballet hottie Ethan Stiefel [Editor's Note: Really? I find him doofy. -- Mindy] as rebellious dance instructor Cooper Nielson, Peter Gallagher as the bushy browed school director, and it is a dance movie, which I'm pretty much duty-bound to enjoy (at least on some level). I should have lowered my expectations. The made-for-TV factor should have been the dead giveaway. The not really attractive newbie girl who was the star I was supposed to be rooting for, should have served as another massive warning flag. And yet... I watched the whole mediocre mess. I can't say I feel good about myself. I can say I'll never watch it again. Here are my main issues with it:
It borrows liberally from too many other dance/teen movies
Sure it is supposed to be a sequel to Center Stage, so I would expect it to have the same exact plot as the first one, with new characters and a couple of twists. But instead it took from Save the Last Dance (girl loses her mother, still goes on to audition for top notch ballet school), Step Up 2 (lead doesn't really fit in with the properly trained dancers, so she dances in the streets and does lots of spins) and even High School Musical 2 (where the hot guy gets conflicted because hot blonde mean girl with influential family can help him get ahead, though he clearly misreads her signals and his brunette girlfriend gets all upset when she discovers what's going on). I realize that these aren't exactly original plotlines, and also by ranting about this that I'm admitting to having seen all these other movies... but my point is that if you are going to borrow from other films that perhaps you should go for the originals and not the lesser sequel versions, and stick to taking plotlines from one teen movie at a time. Otherwise you get a big muddled mess.
The mean girl isn't mean enough
I want my bitchy prima donnas to actually be bitchy prima donnas. If watching all these dance movies in my life has taught me nothing else, it is that the classically trained girl who has been pampered her whole life and been given the best education possible, should be really nasty and entitled and look down her nose at the rest of the girls. Especially the poor ones. Instead they made Suzanne von Stroh (played by the adorable Sarah Jayne Jensen) too desperate with moments of niceness and likability, sort of like Amber Von Tussle in Hairspray, but not nearly as funny or clever. They needed to push her more in one direction or the other and having her make nice with the lead girl Kate and tell her she did a good job at the end was such a cop out. And casting her as the evil stepsister in the Cinderella story? So freaking obvious.
Not a single interesting secondary character/fellow student
In the first Center Stage the action of course followed aspiring dancer Jody Sawyer as she took New York by storm, despite bad feet positioning. But there was also a great arc with Zoe Saldana's funky gal with attitude who snapped gum and dressed unconventionally. And there was the fabulous Maureen who was bulimic and had to deal with crazy Debra Monk as her mother. And even Cooper Nielson got extra mileage out of the fact that he had this love triangle with his ex-girlfriend and Sandy Cohen. It added some great tension. Basically, making it a more well-rounded movie, instead of just a boring one focused on one underdeveloped lead character.
The lead wasn't compelling
The first film had a pretty little blonde gal who looks like Evan Rachel Wood, but isn't, who really lit up the screen with her dancing and made you want her to get the guy and get the lead role. Here there's this character Kate Parker (played by newcomer Rachele Brooke Smith) who was very wooden and not at all engaging. She was supposed to really want to be in New York and be a ballet dancer to inspire her little sister, but she kept quitting (which was annoying) and got a job at a nightclub, waitressing and hip hop dancing. She's got a cute-ish boyfriend Tommy (who had SUCH a thick Boston accent that made me a little bit homesick) and they dance and all she does is sulk for most of the movie. I didn't really think she was attractive, which I guess is a personal choice, but the character made me want to bang my head on the wall. If you are going to pin your entire movie on someone, it should be someone who is captivating.
It's utterly unbelievable
I suspend my disbelief a lot watching these sorts of movies. Mostly because I really want the underdog to win. I'm a big 'ol softie like that. But their version of New York (it was filmed in Toronto) looked nothing like this city. Since when can you catch a bus to Detroit on a street corner near a park. That's what the Port Authority is for. And I've never seen a stage door for auditions here look so sparkly and white. Aside from that, there was the fact that there was a director considering moving her ballet to Broadway (a rarity, if ever) who wants to cast it with unknown students in the lead roles (also never going to happen) and spends time looking over their resumes and really talking to them individually about their previous (or lack thereof) work experience while they stand on stage (uh, not unless it is the Legally Blonde reality show) and then give the lead role in a BALLET to a person who is entirely self-taught and has a reputation as a quitter! There is only so much I can pretend to gloss over in my mind. They pushed my limits with this one.
Don't tease me with Peter Gallagher and then underdeliver
As Mindy and I discussed, we really loved the Amazing Donna Murphy as the dance teacher in the first one. She was incredible. Her replacement/clone? Not so intimidating. But they actually went out of their way to get Peter Gallagher, my beloved Sandy Cohen, then only put him in a few scenes. He shows up at the beginning, judges the newbies and sends Kate on her way. He returns for a bit towards the end. I wanted to see more battles between him and Cooper. Or more of him really crushing the spirits of wannabe ballerinas. That's what really sold his part in the first one. Instead he was basically relegated to guest star status. I should have known it was too good to be true when I saw him in all the commercials.
The hip hop dancing was just OK
As I've sadly revealed, I watch pretty much every dance movie/series/reality show out there, so while I couldn't actually do any hot street-style moves (I am mildly better than Susan Lucci), I know what's exciting and what's not. Watching the dance in the rain in Step Up 2 ... that was hot. Watching Kate get down on a crowded dance floor... not hot. And her work on the bars at the club only reminded me of the Broadway version of Rent and then I got all sad because it's closed, and seeing that several dozen times was a way better use of my time. But they should have gone back to salsa dancing, like they did in the original Center Stage, because when they went to the club, that was very sexy. Here... not so much. I'd rather watch America's Best Dance Crew and see some actual surprising moves that I haven't seen to death.
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