Raya Green (Rutina Wesley) has to go back home because her Caribbean immigrant parents can no longer afford the tuition at her tony private school. They spent that money on drug rehab for Raya’s sister. But they were unable to save her; she died of an overdose. Raya comes back to her old neighborhood to face parents who are devastated and fearful and old friends who are resentful and suspicious. They feel that Raya thinks she is too good for them. Her first reaction is to try to play down her intelligence. When called to the board to solve a quadratic equation, she pretends it is very hard for her. But she does not fool her teacher, who assigns her to tutor the student who has been most hostile to her, Michelle (Tre Armstrong). When the two of them face off against each other, they don’t trade insults or punches — they show off their best dance moves.
Raya wants desperately to go back to her private school. She competes for a scholarship. But there is a big step dancing competition for $50,000 — maybe she could win enough money to pay her tuition. She manages to persuade the top team (the one with the cute guy leading it) to let her join. But her mother is afraid that stepping will lead to drugs, and does not want her to participate.
The thin and predictable plot benefits from likable performances by Wesley, Armstrong, and the rest of the cast, from some distinctive detail about the Caribbean immigrant population and their community, and from some smokin’ dance moves, well staged by choreographer Hi-Hat (who created the fabulous cheerleader movies in the original “Bring it On”) and filmed by director Ian Iqbal Rashid. He gives the film an understated, slightly gritty look that sets off the material well, and when the kids start to move, he gets out of the way and lets them show what they can do.
Parents should know that the movie includes some strong language, some sexual references and a brief non-explicit sexual situation, brief fighting, teen smoking and drinking, and a reference to drug use and a drug overdose.
Families who see this movie should talk about why Raya’s mother did not want her to step and about the conflicts that people feel between being part of a group and being true to their origins. What does it mean to be a “do what we gots to do” person?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Step Up, Save the Last Dance, You Got Served, and Stomp the Yard. The classic of this genre is Breakin’, with its unforgettably named sequel, Breakin’ 2 – Electric Boogaloo. But the best movie for fans of this kind of story is the documentary Rize, with its stunning footage of real-life residents of krump dancers from Los Angeles competing with each other and talking about what dance means to them.