Keenen Ivory Wayans' nephew Damien makes his feature directorial debut with Dance Flick, the latest from a comedy factory even bigger and more confusing than Judd Apatow's. Let's see if I can get this straight. Keenen and his brother Damon Wayans started to break into showbiz in the early 1980s (apparently with some help from Eddie Murphy). Then Keenen wrote and directed the very funny blaxploitation spoof I'm Gonna Git You Sucka (1988), which featured roles for many of his siblings, plus one for a young Chris Rock. Then he created the terrific TV show "In Living Color" (1990), which, among its other accomplishments, boosted Jim Carrey's career. There were some other attempts at movies, most embarrassingly White Chicks (2004) and Little Man (2006), but their real bread and butter seemed to come from Sucka-like spoofs and parodies, starting with Scary Movie (2000).

I like that movie, and even its first two sequels have some memorable moments, but those films also inadvertently unleashed upon the world the screenwriting/directing team of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. Their creations Date Movie (2004), Epic Movie (2006), Meet the Spartans (2008) and Disaster Movie (2008) somehow made lots of money while being universally despised. (Don't ask me how Superhero Movie fits into this mix.) Fortunately Friedberg and Seltzer have nothing to do with Dance Flick, though it would be easy to make that mistake. Rather, no less than five Wayanses worked on the screenplay for this: Keenen, his brothers Shawn and Marlon, his cousin Craig and nephew Damien Wayans. And ten Wayanes appear in the acting credits. I can only imagine that the read-throughs and story conferences were funnier than the movie.


But though Dance Flick only has a vague, passing resemblance to Sucka or Scary Movie, and it isn't very funny, it's at least kind of sweet and mostly inoffensive. As you can guess, it parodies many recent dance films, and its main plot thrust comes from Save the Last Dance (2001). Megan (the cute, unique-looking Shoshana Bush) once had dreams of being a professional dancer, but gave it up when her mother died on the way to a big audition. Now she goes to an inner city school, befriending Charity (Essence Atkins) and falling in love with Charity's handsome, dancing brother Thomas (Damon Wayans Jr.). Unfortunately Thomas and his street dancing crew have fallen in with some bad types. He and his pal A-Con (Affion Crockett) must pay back a gangster (David Alan Grier in a fat suit) some five thousand dollars. Though this plot ultimately doesn't matter much, the Wayanses make sure to stick to it as closely as possible.

Then there's the dancing. In a parody of dance movies like Honey, Step Up 2 the Streets and Stomp the Yard, what kind of dancing do you show? Should it be impressive, or awful? Or just in-between with lots of little gags thrown in? You guessed it. We get breakdancers spinning so fast that they launch off the floor and fly out the window. One dancer sticks his head up his own... hindquarters. Then, of course, we get the "forbidden move" that wins contests, though thankfully, the film doesn't pay too much attention to this creaky device, and gets one good gag out of it. What I would like to have seen in a spoof of these kinds of movies is something making fun of the very theatrical, in-your-face dance floor machismo, wherein dancers sneer at one another and taunt each other with hand-signals and street lingo. Dance Flick copies that, but doesn't necessarily make fun of it.

Other movie parodies show up, but the jokes basically lie in the audience's recognition of said film titles. In one scene, Thomas does a "warm up" by playing a tape of "Maniac," from Flashdance (1983), and we're supposed to laugh when the jiggling behind in the tight leotard turns out to be Thomas's and not Megan's, but the real joke is playing "Maniac" in the first place. We also get quick snippets of Hairspray, Ray, Black Snake Moan, Catwoman, Fame and Twilight with roughly the same payoff. (Not all of these, I shouldn't need to point out, are dance movies.) Other repeating jokes, besides Grier's fat suit and constant references to food, include an animatronic baby that gets hung up in lockers and dangled out of windows (matched with close-ups of a real baby). The movie does get somewhat crude, such as when Amy Sedaris shows up playing a dance teacher named "Mrs. Cameltoé." She turns around, wearing a leotard, and... well, I'll leave you to guess the big punchline.

Overall, I found the crude stuff relatively tame, or at least unsurprising. Rather, I thought the movie had an almost old-fashioned quality to it, as if it were at least trying to harken back to such classic parodies as Blazing Saddles and Airplane! Many of the jokes appear cribbed from old Warner Bros. cartoons, as was the entire plot of Little Man. At the same time it seems hopelessly out of date and out of step, especially when you consider such brainy, pointed parodies as last summer's Tropic Thunder, which not only took on a film genre, but also the skewed Hollywood thought process behind it. By contrast, Dance Flick never looks forward, and it never tries to discover just what it is about the dance genre that deserves to be parodied, or how it can be one-upped. Instead, it was created in a little Hollywood bubble and it can't get out.