10/10/2019

Movie Review - High Strung: Free Dance (2018)


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AKA: Free Dance; High Strung 2

It's hard to make music in the keyboard equivalent of a Ford Fiesta when you've got a Ferrari in your sights, as deli delivery boy Charlie (Harry Jarvis) discovers at the beginning of High Strung: Free Dance. Dropping bread off at an elderly woman's stately home, he comes face-to-face with a gorgeous grand piano and dares to play the keys beckoning to him in the dimly lit study. And once Charlie gives into temptation, his skills make quite an impression on the reclusive owner who first complains that her previous bread order was dry before telling him that next time, he should play something by Schubert.

A delightful opener to an otherwise forgettable movie that's as bland as the rolls at Charlie's deli, Free Dance uses the same building blocks of a "let's put on a show" set love story between a burgeoning dancer and musician that served as the backbone of the pleasant 2016 original. Proof that like a xerox machine, if — as they say in Multiplicity — you make a copy of a copy, the result isn't nearly as sharp, while the first High Strung picture was constructed from bits and pieces of dance movies of decades gone by, this one feels as though it's just going through the motions to try to duplicate its success.


Yet while High Strung's new musician Charlie is an entertaining new character, the same cannot be said for the rest of the people who populate Free Dance. Unfortunately, this includes our dancer and female lead Barlow (played by Juliet Doherty), whose direct worth seems to be derived from whichever guy is standing nearest to her — whether that's bossy choreographer Zander (Thomas Doherty) or Charlie — and neither of whom address her with any real conviction.

From getting cast and kissed by Zander within the same thirty seconds — and with all the sizzle of a toothpaste commercial — to having cliched fights with her mom (Jane Seymour), screenwriters Janeen and Michael Damian (who also directed) can't be bothered to give her or anyone else onscreen anything resembling a personality. And with time, this also applies to Charlie who, despite starting strong, seems to fade into the background as Free Dance continues.


Recommended only to dance movie obsessives and even then with the caveat not to expect too much, with the wooden dialogue only accentuating the film's amateur performances, Free Dance wisely breaks the tedium with dynamic music and jaw-dropping dance choreography that routinely bursts onto the screen so suddenly that it feels as though we must've accidentally changed the channel.

Serving up various styles of modern dance with creativity and verve, in the end, I can't help but wish that Free Dance had been a been not a dull showmance but a That's Entertainment! like showcase of back-to-back free dance. While ultimately a Ford Fiesta — as Charlie might put it — thanks to the impressive work of choreographer Andreea Dumitrescu and the talented dancers on the screen, it's evident that there's enough talent behind the films that someday the High Strung franchise might just deliver its viewers a Ferrari.


Related Review: High Strung (2016)


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