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How She Move

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: The big-money pay-off to a step-dancing contest 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 a gritty overlay of 16mm grain—regards book learning as at least 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 move-bustin' 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 a 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.

 
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