Honestly, I feel like I’m cheating with this one.
Unlike the two previous films that I’ve covered for this blog, Chris Stokes’ You Got Served is pretty well known among millennials my age, which is evident from the massive box office returns that it raked in during its opening weekend back in January 2004.
It’s also well remembered as being a single piece of a larger movement, since Hollywood was completely obsessed with spitting out these “urban” dance movies throughout the 2000s, which were cheap to produce and (usually) guaranteed a tidy profit.
However, unlike a lot of its contemporaries, You Got Served really hasn’t left a lasting legacy in pop-culture outside of its title, which became somewhat of a meme before most people even knew that memes were a thing.
But outside of that, there’s nothing about this film that sets it apart from the rest.
It doesn’t boast the novelty of starring then up-and-coming actors who would go on to find great success in the industry, like the original Step Up (Channing Tatum) or Bring It On (Kirsten Dunst).
Instead, we are saddled with two dull leads (Omari Grandberry and Marques Houston) who aren’t very charismatic or believable, even with the limited character work that they are given.
The film also doesn’t benefit from the impressive production values that characterized some of the later entries in the Step Up franchise, since You Got Served is noticeably cheap looking, especially whenever the characters venture away from the dance floor.
And, probably the biggest sin of all, the dancing on display isn’t even that distinctive. At least a film like Stomp the Yard had the foresight to anchor its premise around something unique and interesting like competitive stepping.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m sure you’re all dying me to talk about the plot to this magnum opus.
Well, surprisingly, there’s a lot going on plot wise in You Got Served outside of the dancing, which is one of its biggest problems.
Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on this specific genre of film, but from the few 2000s dance movies that I’ve seen I can pinpoint a recognizable formula that works. Most of the time, the plot is just background noise or an excuse to stich together impressively choreographed dance sequences.
But in You Got Served it seems like the dancing takes a back seat to the story, which is horribly clichéd, uninteresting, and full of cringy melodrama.
The main thrust of the plot follows David and Elgin (Grandberry and Houston, respectively) who live out their young lives battling dance crews for cash in a surprisingly sanitized Los Angeles.
The pair have their sights set on greater things, which are never clearly defined, but a number of obstacles stand in their way, including a rival dance crew from Orange Country and the city’s violent criminal underbelly.
Now, this sounds like a simple enough premise, but it gets bogged down in a bunch of extraneous details that detract from the main reason people came to see the film: the dancing.
Here are just some of those dazzling plot points that:
- David starts falling for Elgin’s sister, which drives wedge between the two of them.
- David and Elgin work for a drug kingpin on the side, which inevitably encroaches on their lives in the world of dance.
- A precocious child called “Lil Saint” hangs around with David and Elgin’s dance crew for the sole purpose of getting himself caught up in some life-threatening situations later on.
- Steve Harvey plays the movie’s mentor character called “Mr. Rad”, who organizes all the local dance battles and spews out fortune cookie wisdom while also serving as an unexpected deus ex machina.
And even though this film is awash with this extraneous bullshit, they still managed to leave out some really important details.
We never find out how David and Elgin originally met, formed a dance crew, or why they are so passionate about what seems like their full time gig (since we never see them in school or holding down fulltime jobs).
Even when the film gets around to the dancing, it’s nothing to write home about.
Director Chris Stokes doesn’t really take advantage of the medium of film, since the camera remains largely slow moving and doesn’t emphasize the impressive athleticism of that its cast clearly possesses.
As a result, the big climatic dance battle at the end of the film comes across as some lifeless b-roll that would play at the beginning of any MTV program from the early to mid 2000s.
Speaking of MTV, one of the most redeeming things about You Got Served is how desperately it’s trying to appeal to the youth of that era.
The script is stuffed to brim with so much dated hip-hop vernacular and celebrity cameos (anybody else remember Wade Robson???) that it’s actually kind of adorable. I can just imagine a boardroom full of old, out-touch-executives trying to cram in as much trendy fashion and pop-culture artifacts in order to reach that lucrative teen demographic.
Basically, this film is the cinematic equivalent of that clip of Steve Buscemi from 30 Rock. You know the one.
In the end, even though You Got Served is a hilarious viewing experience in spots, it doesn’t make up for the long stretches of film that are a chore to get through.
And since this movie is supposed to be all about high-energy dance moves, being boring is probably its biggest failing.
Corner store companion:
Listerine cool mint antiseptic mouthwash (to rinse that bad taste out of your mouth).
-Release date: Jan. 30, 2004.
-Budget: $8 million (estimated)
-Box office gross: $40,066,497 (US)
-Became number one at the box office in its opening weekend, which also coincided with Super Bowl 38 (aka, the one where Janet Jackson’s nipple closed out the halftime show).
-Musical highlight: “The One” by ATL.
-Unexpected cameo: Kevin Federline (yes, that Kevin Federline) made his cinematic debut as one of the film’s many backup dancers.
-Both of the film’s leads were members of American R&B boy bands from the mid-2000s, with Grandberry being a member of B2K and Houston belonging to IMx. Several of their tacks are featured on the movie’s soundtrack.
-Personal confession: The copy of the DVD I bought consisted of two discs, You Got Served and You Got Served: Take it to the Streets. I stupidly thought that that second title was a straight-to-DVD sequel, which would have made for a more appropriate to review, since I’ve never heard of it. Surprise!!! It turns out You Got Served: Take it to the Streets is an instructional video, where the cast of the original film walk you through how to pull off those slick dance moves. I haven’t drummed up the courage to watch it yet.
-A straight-to-DVD sequel in name only was finally released in 2011 called You Got Served: Beat the World, which doesn’t star anybody from the 2004 film or have anything to do with the original plot.