It’s about time the French got around to their own “Step Up” movie. Not that they credited the American creators of those movies or built “Break” to be a part of what we’d call the “Step Up Universe.”
So here it is, “Break,” aka “Step Up: Saint Denis,” a break-dancing/dance battle movie with little dramatic embellishments, good dance scenes, including aerial work (Spanish Web, etc.), and an endlessly-recycled “plot” that exists solely to get us to the next dance, set up the quarreling dancers/soon-to-be-lovers.
Amazingly, seven writers want a piece of the credit for that.
Director and co-writer Marc Fouchard, making his feature film debut, hits us with his first interesting wrinkle right at the start. Two climbers, hanging from lines, “dance” over, with, and around each other on the wall of an abandoned French high rise.
But they’re better dancers than climbers. Somebody attached their lines to something rust, and rust gives away. Luce (Sabrina Ouazani) breaks loose, and partner Julien (Maxime Pambet) can’t hold her to keep her from falling.
But she lives. We see in the neck brace in the hospital. And when she gets out, she holds no grudge. Lover/partner and guy who dropped her Julien is still in the picture. There’s this big competition coming up, after all.
But Luce has this idea that her biological father, whom she’s never met, visited her while she was unconscious. Her mother (Camille Japy) takes a “neither confirm or deny” stance, and throws in “Let’s have a little getaway to Brittany!”
Luce steals Mom’s phone and figures this out. Years of deception and lying, undone by one call from a Hotel Monte Carlo. But it’s not in Monaco. Oh no. It’s in the “bad side of town,” Saint Denis. Luce blows off Brittany, gives Mom a “got to study” cover story and sets out to check in at the place — a dump upstairs from a cafe — and check out the clientele to see which one might be her Dad.
The guy cleaning the cafe turns her head with his “dance like nobody is watching you” routine. He is Vincent, a rougher version of lithe, facially-stubbled Julien. No kidding, they could be relatives.
As Luce snoops around — the hotel has a sketchy office where rehabilitated convicts check in and get chewed out — it’s Vincent (Kevin Mischel) intrigues her. First he denies that she saw him dancing, then he allows that “there are dancers all around here” and finally he admits “I quit dancing.”
What is his secret? When he suggests Luce check out this dance “school” in a former factory space, she drags Julien along for “lessons” that basically amount to watching how they break in Saint-Denis.
Semi-colorful characters know Vincent’s “secret,” and don’t give it away, among them the guy in the wheelchair, Malik (Slimane Nebchi), who knows French breakdancing history — a story about US breakdancing videotapes making it to France, playing back too fast thus the “faster” French dancing that we see in the film. The wild-haired Wiki (Salomon Azaro) earned his nickname for being a repository of every breakdance move known to Wikipedia.
There are a couple of moments where Luce lets us see the fear of re-injury, either through the neck-straining lifts off the floor or climbing, Cirque du Soleil fashion, up the Spanish Web for aerial routines.
There’s a little “This guy must be my real father” searching.
The off-hours “dance battle” scene, competitions that would ready Luce for her BIG competition, are French language (with English subtitles) versions of every dance battle movie ever.
“That’s ‘battle.’ You either get up or you GIVE up!”
And of course, there’s realizing the dude who dropped you needs to be dropped so that Luce and Vincent can uh, “heal” each other. Something along those lines.
This isn’t a script. It’s a very popular, over-used screen plot app.
Ouazani is an arresting presence, believable as the object of working class Saint Denis objectification, and as somebody tough enough to fight her own #MeToo battles.
Mischel is OK, Pambet basically identical in looks and performance — both playing variations of a tad “put out” by Luce’s behavior.
The dance, with its aerial component, is lovely. But it isn’t enough to render a movie with no surprises into something worth your time.
MPA Rating: TV-MA, sex, profanity
Cast: Sabrina Ouazani, Kevin Mischel, Hassam Ghancy, Maxime Pambet, Camille Japy and Salomon Azaro
Credits: Directed by Marc Fouchard script by Marc Fouchard and François-Régis Jeanne. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:36