“Star Wars” creator George Lucas once said, “Figure out what 12 year-old girls want, and you’ve got a hit.”
And “To the Beat!” is a veritable shopping list of those “wants.”
Girls — here they’re 14 and thus examples to their younger sisters — want to dance.
They want fame, and the wardrobe that goes with it. They want a chance to meet and dance for their latest pop idol, here represented by singer-dancer Chris Trousdale, formerly of Dream Street.
And — just guessing here — they want a movie with a little more edge and polish than the achingly sweet, squeaky clean, virtually drama free “To the Beat!”
It’s about twin sisters (Laura Krystine, Brisa Lalich), one studious, the other more “free” and “fun,” but both dancers. Mia (Lalich) is practicing a political speech for school, but Mackie’s not having it.
“Issues facing our country? Girl, we have our OWN issues to worry about.”
She’s just seen, online, an announcement by Trousdale that he’s holding a contest to pick a five girl team of dancers to appear with him in his next video. And Mackie’s just GOT to get in on that. Mia will get a team together, too, even though their styles (modern vs tap) mimic their personalities.
“No matter what happens, I’ll be happy for you.”
They don’t need a sibling rivalry, what with their spoiled bratty nemesis Avery (Jayden Bartels) living next door. Avery has Daddy (Eric Martsolf) wrapped around her little finger, and needs him to finance her “plan for me to finally get what I deserve.”
The sisters, meanwhile, assemble their squads and work out with their faux French dance teacher, aptly named Miss Dotty (Susan Denaker). When crunch time hits, Miss Dotty calls in the even-more-camp Bob Fosse-wannabe (Michael Taylor Gray, funny).
Boys? They’re just here to help plan social media strategies, or in Avery’s case, to get Alex (Jake Brennan) to “fix” the online voting to get into the finals.
Parents? They’re mostly here to subordinate their needs to fulfilling their little girls’ dreams. The twins’ mom (Marie Wilson) is a widow working two jobs, leaving a lot of the “mothering” to oldest daughter Mandy (Veronica St. Clair). Avery’s (Martha Madison of “Days of Our Lives”) is a Southerner and ex-cheerleader who has some “suggestions” for Avery’s routine.
“You are NOT gonna PAULA ABDUL this dance contest!”
Co-writers Susan Bernhardt and Jillian Clare (former child actress, who also directed this) refer to themselves as “creators” in the credits. So this is probably a proof-of-concept pilot for a TV series.
And the very young dancers make that an idea that could pan out. The acting may be wildly uneven, but endless rehearsals, all set to Trousdale’s “Dance for Love,” are sharp and age (and skill-level) appropriate. This isn’t “Step Up,” in other words. Asexual, cute and just impressive enough to be something kids could try at home.
The teen characters, aside from the odd bit of cheating, backstabbing and squealing in delight at every “video” appearance by Trousdale, are supportive and (somewhat) considerate. SOME of them take Trousdale’s “Don’t take yourself too seriously” too seriously. Guess who doesn’t?
“How ELSE am I supposed to take myself?”
The banter is of the “For realz, you’re delusional,” variety. And the story, lacking much in the line of drama, just meanders (too many characters to do justice to many of them) towards its “Big Contest” finale.
That’s where the filmmakers’ “call in favors” casting drains what little air there is out of the balloon. You don’t turn your LONG third act over to “our three celebrity judges” (actress-dancer Alyson Stoner is the most famous one, “Maze Runner” Dexter Darden is another) who go on and on “analyzing” each of the three finalist teams’ performances.
That smacks of “They’re doing me a favor, I need to give them lots of screen time” and it makes the movie fizzle out when it had been perfectly content to just fade away. Slowly.
MPAA Rating: TV-PG
Cast: Laura Krystine, Brisa Lalich, Jayden Bartels, Veronica Stt. Claire, Martha Madison
Credits:Directed by Jillian Clare, script by Susan Bernhardt and Jillian Clare. A Vision/Netflix release.
Running time: 1:36