‘Work It’ review: Netflix’s dance flick is fun and forgettable
Laura Terruso’s high school dance competition film is at its best when it stops trying to make its way and work its way through predictable bends.
“Work It” Knows Its Angles: At the start of Laura Terruso’s fun but forgettable high school dance competition film, one of her most engaging stars jokes about jumping in a time machine to pick up a young Channing Tatum. If only! Tatum, of course, made his Hollywood debut in his own high school dance competition film, “Step Up,” which not only launched his career but also a strong cross-platform franchise. Terruso’s movie isn’t exactly trying to be the next “Step Up,” but it does nod to one of the genre’s most popular entries and work overtime to keep up.
Oddly, however, “Work It” is at its best when it doesn’t try to emulate the rhythms of a genre which, while often entertaining, doesn’t leave much room for innovation beyond all. this dance. While there is comfort in the familiar, there is also boredom, and anyone who has seen even a single movie centered on high school kids dancing and making their way around the world (“Step Up “,“ Bring It On, ”“ Save the Last Dance, ”and the like) will know exactly where“ Work It ”is going. Expectations of the genre provide a framework for“ Work It ”that thrills (so many dance montages! All fun! ) and bewildered (a chemistry-free romance.) When he dares to break those boxes, however, things get a lot more interesting.
Centered around good-humored geek Quinn Ackerman (Sabrina Carpenter) – the film opens with the high school student quoting Albert Einstein, so you know she’s smart – “Work It” follows our clumsy heroine as she tries to learn to dance to… improve her chances of getting into the college of her dreams? Dressed in baggy sweaters and wearing a floppy ponytail, Quinn is a total nerd who has dedicated her life to serious academic pursuits, even though her high school brothers really only care about more physical displays of strength, like her team of award-winning dance.
Quinn loves the team, which includes his very funny BFF Jas (Liza Koshy, the undisputed breakthrough of the film) and the very villainous “Julliard” (Keiynan Lonsdale, playing a dancer so focused on his future that he only responds to name of her chosen college), but she is not a dancer. But when a wacky college admissions counselor (Michelle Buteau, apparently starring in a much funnier, weirder movie) informs Quinn that schools are looking for applicants who don’t think outside the box, but who ” blow up the box, ”Quinn gets trapped in a major lie. Suddenly Quinn doesn’t just need to be a part of the dance team, she also needs to get pretty good at popping and locking to be able to compete with them at the BIG! DANCE! COMPETETION! (which is, of course, called Work It).
Through a series of weirdly convoluted complications, Quinn and Jas end up leading a whole new dance team (sorry, Julliard!) Give theirs. At least Quinn and Jas’ relationship has some screen time, mostly reinforced by Koshy’s outrageously funny sense of humor, which often turns the film in unexpected and original directions. Less unique is Quinn’s involvement with Jake Taylor (Jordan Fisher, just as charming as he is in the “To All the Boys” franchise), who comes on board to choreograph the new team and (for some reason?) falls in love with Quinn in the process.
It’s a pretty standard setup, and while “Work It” never takes chances with it, the film offers its own brand of tongue-in-cheek humor (all that is with Koshy is comedic gold), finding success. fun even in the most predictable turns. It’s these wacky moments that make the film stand out, even temporarily, as Terruso taps into his stellar young cast for jokes and gags that amplify the laughs and offer a glimpse of the character in the process. Less successful are the more prescribed elements, including the inevitable third act break that briefly threatens the happiness of Quinn and his team (so poorly conceived, however, that this reviewer had to watch the big team erupt three times to figure it out. why was everyone so fucked up crazy).
At least it’s clearer when Quinn realizes (again, inevitable) that maybe she really has Is loves to dance, when she trades her morning TED Talks for music (one thing “Work It” excels at: a stacked soundtrack of contemporary stars, from Dua Lipa to Big Freedia). Every beat in Alison Peck’s script feels as choreographed as Jake’s (really good) routines, and while the movie doesn’t have the mind-blowing oomph of something like, yes, “Step Up,” it does at least recognize how assemble a credible group of newbies and turn them into a real team.
It’s the joy of any dance movie, really, and one that “Work It” recognizes, even if it rarely ventures into new territory. Good luck not to clap when the band – which is called “TBD”, because they can’t think of anything better, only to realize that, yes, they are yet ‘to be determined’ – put on their latest show and wow everyone in the process. It’s temporarily entertaining, a moment of joy that moves too soon to the territory to sit back and forget.
Rating: C +
“Work It” will be available to stream on Netflix on Friday August 7th.