In my introduction to this feature I mentioned that I had to be dragged shuffling and pleading into You Got Served instead of watching Lost In Translation. Bill Murray was nominated for an Oscar and lost, while the cast of You Got Served went on to continue dancing their days away. The former squandered the opportunity starring in well-meaning and highly ambitious features like The Life Aquatic while You Got Served spawned a seemingly endless line of dance shows, movies, and cultural relics we'll be partaking in for years to come.
Other than Christian Bale's take on Batman screaming "Swear to me" I haven't heard another catchphrase in the last 10 years so widely used. Maybe it's used as a joke among some friends trying to be ironic, or someone one-upping a competitor in a sport. Whatever the case, for the first couple of years after You Got Served came out it was hard for me to avoid hearing "Served, served, served" or any variant thereof in exceedingly different kinds of groups. Say what you will about the predictability of You Got Served, writer/director Chris Stokes saw an untapped market and went at it beats aplenty.
The horns are the first thing we hear (courtesy of Timbaland's "Beat"), setting the energy high before the warehouse is set in is even seen. By the time the camera finally switches over to the two crews getting ready for their dance-off it becomes breathtakingly clear why Honey failed so badly. The setup is perfect, a wide-open wood floor with turntable ropes keeping the crowd at bay, leaving a large empty space for the groups to dance in.
Quickly they get to work, and while the quick cuts don't do the dancers any favors, the use of space and medium-long to long shots highlight the skill and rhythm of these dancers in action. It's a hell of an opening, filled with energy and ending on a note of good cheer and friendly competition that runs countercurrent to the typical American brand of crushing your opponent.
It's a shame that the movie decided to drop a plot on all this fun but the narrative form must be upheld. Our heroes are all played with a certain degree of self-effacing charm by the leads of the former R&B group B2K. The strands run out as you might expect, so without further elaboration David (Omarion) and Elgin (Marques Houston) have been competing in these dance competitions for years while running backpacks filled with drugs for the local gangster Emerald (Michael Taliferro).
David likes Elgin's sister Liyah (Jennifer Freeman), Elgin doesn't like that they are together, their crew is challenged by the broadest villain this side of an 80's action film to a dance-off. Then there's the standard dose of betrayal, separation, and a total of three "inexplicable until you see the ending" scenes focusing on the troupe's mascot 'Lil Saint (Malcolm David Kelley, long before his growth spurt on LOST) who exists entirely to be killed off-screen and provide a reason for everyone to reuinte.
Yeah, that part's a bit cynical, but so random it borders on the absurd.
That may sound like a lot but the plot is so broadly constructed to manipulate emotions and sell Little Kim albums that it makes me smile. The former comes off a lot stronger than the latter, with little anachronistic touches like a date over some milkshakes or the old fashioned training montage (only this time with dancing and in the rain). All this helps the main plot-line go down smooth while we wait patiently for the next dance scene to arrive.
After the flat choreography of Honey they're something of a blessing. Each sequence has one or two routines that really shine-out in my memory. My favorites being a slow motion marionette pose-off during one dance and a slow chorus line of slap dancing forming an opposing triangle to the other crew. Combine that with a soundtrack filled with tons of killer tunes (all training montages should be set to Blackalicious' "Release Pt 1" as an industry standard).
What the movie may lack in originality in plotting is made up for in spades with explosive energy and goodwill. But I'd be remiss in doing a bit of analysis of some aspects of the dances themselves, which yield an interesting mix of gender politics.
Honey may have been all about the female dancers but the sex-appeal was placed front and center (as, once again, made abundantly obvious by the poster). In many of the dances, and made very obvious in the opening scene, show the female dancers toying a lot with the kind of braggadocio posturing in a lot of mainstream hip-hop. The women emasculate their opponents by playing with their imaginary phallus, tearing down their pants and assuming a dominant role in their routines.
There's still a subtle bit of sexual reinforcement going on though. Only the women on the "good" team do this. The "bad" women are considerably more sexualized both in dress and dance moves. So the good women can emasculate their opponents but can't flaunt their sexuality in an interesting bit of sexual role reinforcement that only becomes more apparent when the "good" and "bad" women go head-to-head.
The gender politics aren't the only intriguing thing here. As I mentioned with the villain, he's all spiky blonde hair and insane boasts delivered with the energy of a walking Mountain Dew campaign. Considering that a lot is made of the evil crew's attempts at besting our boy's by stealing their routine it's hard not to think about the long legacy of black artists having their material being co-opted by white performers (as much as I love him, just take a gander at Elvis' career for examples of this).
All in all this movie is a declaration for an dance form that is able to proclaim it's identity proudly and deflect anyone trying to co-opt it. The movie delivers this pride in spades with it's energy and creativity in the dances even if the technical execution leaves a bit of that enthusiasm drained onscreen.
Even in the most seemingly superfluous piece of disposable pop can there be an interesting heart to analyze. It's no wonder that You Got Served caught on so big despite it's modest box office success (though a $48 million gross compared to an $8 million budget is certainly nothing to sneeze at). 'Lil Angel's sudden death aside (which still baffles me to this day), this is some damn fun film-making and an inspiration for a number of great entertainments to come.
August 30th – Rize
September 6th – Roll Bounce
September 13th – Step Up
September 20th – Take the Lead
September 27th – Feel the Noise
October 4th – Planet B-Boy
October 11th – Stomp the Yard
October 18th – How She Move
October 25th – B-Girl
November 1st – Make It Happen
November 8th – Step Up 2 the Streets
November 15th – Dance Flick
November 22nd – Step-Up 3D