“Make Your Move” is finally opening in the country that brought star Derek Hough international fame through his “Dancing with the Stars” connections. Go to see the dancing, and zone out the dialogue.
At 28, Hough is on the cusp of movie stardom and “Make Your Move” isn’t a bad launching point for the Salt Lake City-born dancing sensation. Sent to be tutored by Corky Ballas and his then-wife Shirley Ballas in London, Hough won the IDSF World Youth Latin Championship with Aneta Piotrowska.
Hough has been with DWTS since September 2007. Before that, he was the lead (Ren) in the original West End production of “Footloose: The Musical.” His sister, Julianne Hough was in the remake. He has also played Jesus in a 2006 production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and debuted in a 2005 production of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”
On “Dancing with the Stars” he’s a five-time winner (Season 7 with Brooke Burke, Season 10 with Nicole Scherzinger, Season 11 with Jennifer Grey, Season 16 with Kellie Pickler and Season 17 with Amber Riley) and also collected an Emmy for choreography for his DWTS work with Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson for the quickstep to “Hey Pachuco” and the mambo to “Para Los Rumberos” and a modern piece to “Walking on Air” with Jaimie Goodwin. Hough had been nominated five times, including his first 2009 nom for the “Great Balls of Fire” jive routine that he performed and choreographed with Julianne.
“Make Your Move” isn’t Hough’s first movie. Hough previously appeared as a Hogwarts schoolboy in the 2001 “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” and made a cameo appearance in his sister’s 2012 movie “Rock of Ages.”
The United States isn’t the first place this South Korean produced film opened. The movie first opened in Norway last July, followed by Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands and Italy. Vietnam was the first Asian country in September with Hong Kong in October and Singapore in November. The movie opens in South Korea only one day ahead of its USA 18 April 2014 release.
According to IMDB, this is his co-star BoA’s first feature film. BoA has been in two TV movies, but she’s best known in our house via a parody. It helps if you know that Bao can be the Chinese word for a steamed bun.
If you’re expecting great acting or characters, then you’ll be deeply disappointed. “Make Your Move” is brought to us by the person who created the screenplay for the 2006 “Step Up,” and the characters for the sequels: Duane Adler. Adler directs as if he’s impatiently rushing us towards the next musical interlude and dance moments. The dialogue is tragic and sometimes defies logic.
Hough plays Donny, a dancer who can’t find a day job in New Orleans. He’s just finished a stint in jail for reasons that remain murky until much later. He’s Gotta Dance. If you read that sentence and heard Gene Kelly’s voice, then you’re on the right track.
So he asks his best friend (who played Ben Gonzalez in the 2009 “Reaper” TV series) to cover for him when Donny’s parole officer (Dan Lauria) calls and Donny violates the conditions of his parole by leaving the state and heading up to NYC where his “brother” Nick (Wesley Jonathan of “The Soul Man” TV series). Donny is white; Nick is black. They are foster bros, so get over it and get on with this multicultural story.
Nick and his Korean-Japanese friend Kaz (Will Yun Lee) had started up a semi-legal club, kind of rough but trendy nightspot on the site of a former factory. In a weird love polygon, Kaz and Nick part ways because a Wall Street hotshot Michael (“Silent Hill” actor Jefferson Brown) has yellow fever–for Kaz’s sister Aya (BoA). Michael is Kaz’s financial backer for a legit club with an Asian flair called Oto (but as I recall, pronounced Otto).
Kaz’s departure was so abrupt that the taiko (Japanese drums) belonging to Aya’s taiko hip hop tapping women’s group are locked away in storage backstage at Nick’s club. Aya and her group break into Nick’s club and, in a moment of flamboyant stupidity, instead of sneaking off, they perform. Not worried about making a getaway, BoA takes to tapping on top of the bar and Donny, tapping flattened beer cans on his shoes, gets up and starts a challenge. It’s love at first dance.
Kaz and Aya are Japanese-born, but of Korean ancestry which explains some sentences in Japanese and Korean, but not why, when alone, Kaz and Aya sometimes speak in English. Kaz is legally in America. Aya’s visa will expire in a few weeks which sets up the deadline Aya and Donny will work against. The race against time makes up for lack of characterization and actual relationship development, but this isn’t a vehicle for acting. It’s a dance movie, dammit.
Aya could get a work visa if she signs an exclusive contract with Michael who one senses wants to control his little “geisha” in more ways than just professionally. If she could just get a venue for a live performance, she might have a chance of signing her taiko group Cobu with a legitimate agent. Time is running out and, to make matters worse, both Kaz and Nick are in a territory fight that sadly doesn’t involve dancing like Sharks and Jets.
Despite the tragedy of the dialogue, this movie has a happy ending. Despite the gunfire, the hallmarks of Shakespearean tragedies (bodies piling up on the stage) are absent from this Japanese Juliet meets living rough Romeo tale.
Adler is building up a legacy of dance vehicles for white guys wandering into hip hop, with the exception of the 2001 “Save the Last Dance” which starred Julia Stiles but featured Sean Patrick Thomas as her guy from the wrong side of the tracks with somewhat criminal past love interest. This isn’t totally his fault since he’s not in charge of casting and he’s only credited with the characters for the Step Up series since “Step Up 2: The Streets.”
Can we really complain when this movie “Make Your Move” brings Hough his first feature film lead? Hough looks too fresh and healthy for someone who ends up temporarily homeless and his injuries are too temporal from someone who gets beaten up (in a movie that doesn’t have the tone of a Roadrunner-Coyote cartoon).
Hough is athletic as Gene Kelly and has the beautiful lines of Fred Astaire. His beautiful spins and turns and dynamic lines outclass BoA whose hip hop is good, but not as high a level as the crews on “Step Up: 3D.” Napoleon and Tabitha Dumo’s choreography matches Hough and BoA’s disparate talents into a lyrically romantic duet sequences.
Gregory Middleton’s atmospheric cinematography makes grunge look glamorous and fills us with the golden light of possibilities including multicultural friendships and romance.
“Make Your Move” isn’t a great movie but feature wonderful dance sequences and maybe the first step for Derek Hough into musical stardom. Please someone give Hough a Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire musical and find him a Ginger Rogers.