Thursday 2 August 2012

American vogue: "Leave It On The Floor"

It apparently took twenty years to bring to the screen, and the low-budget, hi-NRG musical Leave It On The Floor does indeed feel like a throwback to the early days of New Queer and New Black Cinema, where to be presented with characters who were gay or black, or gay and black, was enough in itself; when sophistication or complexity didn't really matter, because representation - seeing someone who was like you, or like no-one you saw in those incontrovertibly white mainstream movies - was all. This is how Tyler Perry happened. In a little under sixty seconds at the start of Sheldon Larry's film, young hero Brad (clean-cut Chris Brown lookalike Ephraim Sykes) is outed to his mother by his own Internet browser and turfed onto the streets of downtown L.A.. The remaining 100-odd minutes will chart Brad's passage from homeless loser to something more fabulous, a transformation fostered at an underground club overseen by dragistas and go-go boys who face off in style battles only marginally less fierce than the rap contests in 8 Mile. There will be catfights, there will be carcrashes, but the outcome will never seriously be in doubt.

This thin, stock plot is padded out with a fair bit of vogueing - proof the film's clock stopped somewhere around 1992 - and numbers pitched just an octave or two too high for this ear: these aspirant showtunes might well work in the small, intimate setting of a fringe theatre, but on the big screen risk coming across as tinny-screechy knock-offs of every other overproduced melting-pot pop song that hits the charts these days. (The high/low point is a keening ballad entitled "Black Love", which ventures beyond all parody.) To his credit, Larry knows how to work his limited resources, pouring whatever funds he has available into finding bright, sunkissed locations, and sourcing lively choreography from Beyonce's resident step-plotter Frank Gatson Jr.; he's also savvy enough to trade off his leading men's technical shortcomings against the glistening torsos that may yet do a job for the target audience. Some superficial pleasures on offer, then: if Kurt and Mercedes from Glee were feeling horny and let loose in the Sundance lab, they might very well come back clutching something like this.

Leave It On The Floor opens at the Leicester Square Theatre, London from tomorrow, ahead of its DVD release on September 10.

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