My favorite guilty pleasure movie obsession is dance films. I will watch pretty much any lousy movie featuring dancing in its main plot, no matter what kind of dancing it is. These movies all tend to be unimaginative and formulaic, but sometimes they manage to surprise you with decent acting performances and AMAZING dance performances. One of these surprisingly good flicks is the original "Center Stage" -- so when I heard that there was a direct to DVD sequel, I knew I had to rent it.
The plot of this movie is very different from the first one, which is a breath of fresh air. As fans of the first flick know, Jodi Sawyer made it into the American Ballet Academy by the skin of her teeth, then ultimately proved that by mixing passion and modern dance steps in with ballet, she had what it took to be a star in arrogant "ballerino" Cooper Nielson's new company. This time around, Cooper can't save the star, because his company has run out of funding, putting him right back at ABA as an instructor. And the girl we follow this time is, like Jodi was, a dancer who lacks technical skill but has lots of passion. This time, however, she doesn't make it. Perhaps that's because she auditions directly for (even more arrogant) company director Jonathan Reeves, instead of his representatives. That's a great scene, because it allows us to see the cold, stark reality of hiring dancers, and keeping a company alive.
This movie is filled with good dance scenes and decent acting, as it melds "street" dancing with ballet, and shows us Kate's journey after her devastating rejection. The director wanted to make the film seem less formal than the first one, so he uses a lot of hand-held camera moves that make the frames off-center, or shows us the dancers in reflection as they perform. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer that the camera be left alone during dance movies, so that I can follow the performance in full.
Speaking of performances -- that is where this movie really falls short compared to the last one. Despite the fact that its only major improvement over the last one is that they hired a full cast of dancers (meaning that unlike the first movie, there's never a need to cut away from an actor who clearly cannot do his or her own dancing) this movie has no GREAT dance performances. Just good ones. The finale is especially disappointing compared to finale of the original. That was a ten-minute, all out, full-on dance spectacular, with great pop music, great costumes, a great story -- and even greater dance moves. This one is just . . . okay. Nothing special. It seems like such a sad waste of such an obviously talented cast. Perhaps part of the reason is that, according to one of the extras, they only had four days to learn ALL the choreography for the entire movie. That elevates the dancing in this sequel from good to impressive, but it's still disappointing that they couldn't get enough rehearsal time to really live up to the original.
The extras consist of two making-of featurettes, and an ungodly amount of trailers. Seriously, I have *NEVER* seen so many trailers included in one movie before. It's absurd. Overall, this DVD is worth a rental, and is a must-see for fans of the original, if only because you get to watch Cooper Nielson dance hip-hop! But I wouldn't recommend that anyone purchase it, because it just isn't the kind of movie you can watch over and over again, noticing new things about the dance performances every time. Instead, go ahead and pop in the first one. THAT one never gets old.