One False Move (1992) review- It sounded better on paper

After suffering through trash like You Got Served, I was pretty excited to pop in Carl Franklin’s One False Move.

Not only is this gritty crime drama a radical departure from anything I’ve looked at so far, but the behind-the-scenes details relating to its production and release is a real heartwarming underdog story that will reaffirm your faith in the power of independent filmmaking.

Shot on a shoe-string budget of $2.3 million and helmed by a then amateur director, One False Move was originally set to go straight-to-video. However, strong word of mouth from critics helped it get a limited theatrical release and strong circulation on that year’s awards circuit.

Legendary film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were some of the film’s biggest cheerleaders throughout this whole process, with the latter praising Franklin’s “powerful” directing and the “extraordinary” screenplay from star Billy Bob Thornton and his writing partner Tom Epperson.

Siskel and Ebert would even go on to name One False Move their first and second favourite movie of 1992, respectively. To put that in perspective, next year both critics would give their number one spot to Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.

I mention all of this inside baseball malarkey up front because, unfortunately, it’s a lot more compelling than the actual film itself.

Now don’t get me wrong, One False Move isn’t a bad movie. In fact, there are quite a few things to like about it (especially given its humble roots). But nothing about this film really grabbed me on a visceral level.

And I hate to sound like a smug contrarian, but I couldn’t help but feel that I was watching a standard episode of a 90s cop show stretched out to two hours (albeit with a little more hardcore violence and profanity).

Part of my problem has to do with how the film is structured, since the runtime is divvied up into two parallel plotlines.

One story features a trio of criminals (Billy Bob Thornton, Cynda Williams and Michael Beach) who are on the run from the law after committing a horrific drug robbery in Los Angeles that resulted in multiple homicides.

The second story follows the two detectives (Jim Metzler, Earl Billings) tasked with tracking down these outlaws, who are eventually drawn to one of the suspect’s old stomping grounds in Star City, Arkansas. There, they team up with a local police chief (Bill Paxton), whose boy-scout attitude clashes with big city cops’ approach to law enforcement.

Now, taken as two separate stories, both plots feature plenty of tension, snappy dialog and nuanced performances from the entire cast.

Special mention goes out to Michael Beach, who plays the quiet psychopath “Pluto” with a complex level of menace that really got under my skin.

However, much of the film’s dramatic impact is supposed to come from the interaction between the cops and the criminals and the two groups barely spend any screen time together.

This is especially true for Bill Paxton’s police chief, whose shared history with one of the criminals is a key part of the movie, since it gradually peels away his benevolent façade and reveals a more sinister side of his personality.

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Sounds interesting, right? Well, to bad, because this element is only squeezed into the last 20 minutes, which doesn’t give it any room to breathe.

These shortcoming aren’t helped by flat direction, poor editing in spots and a dated score which relies heavily on harmonicas and what I like to call “90s sax.”

Some might view this criticism as a little harsh, especially considering that One False Move marks Carl Franklin’s first big film project after spending most of his career acting on TV and directing low budget schlock for producer Roger Corman.

But now that we live in film industry that’s filled with dazzling first-time directors like Jordan Peele (Get Out) and Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), it’s really hard to go back and pass off a simply “passable” job as something that is “brilliant.”

Again, I don’t get any joy in dumping on a small production like this, especially since, from what I could gather, every member of the cast and crew had their hearts in the right place while making it.

Sadly, good intentions alone aren’t enough to convince me that this movie is some kind of hidden gem. The various moving parts on display just don’t end up coalescing as a whole, which left me feeling like the movie ended 10−15 minutes before its story was complete.

But be sure to take my criticism with a golf ball sized grain of salt, since pretty much every professional movie critic under the sun disagrees with me.

Besides, who am I to second-guess the benevolent wisdom of the great Siskel and Ebert?

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Verdict:

5/10

Corner store companion:

Lay’s Ketchup Chips (because it’s not for me, but I can understand why other people like it).

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Fun facts:

-Release date: May 8, 1992

-Budget: $2.3 million

-Box office gross: $1.5 million (estimated)

-Despite my reservations about his early work, director Carl Franklin took home a number of accolades from his peers during the 1992−93 film awards circuit, including “Best Director” at the 1993 Independent Spirit Awards and the “New Generation Award” at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards.

-Two decades later, Franklin managed to carve out an impressive directing career for himself after his initial success in the 1990s. Today, he’s managed to generate steady work for himself on a lot of hit TV shows, sporting directing credits for: Homeland, Bloodline, 13 Reasons Why, and, most recently, Mindhunter. He was even nominated for a Primetime Emmy after helming “Chapter 14” from House of Cards (you know, the episode with the subway).

-This film marks Billy Bod Thornton’s first film writing credit, which would earn him a nomination for “Best Screenplay” at the 1993 Independent Spirit Awards. Thornton would eventually walk way with that prize in 1997 thanks to his screenplay for Sling Blade.

-Co-stars Cynda Williams and Billy Bob Thornton got married shortly after filming on One False Move wrapped. They were divorced before the film was released two years later.

You Got Served (2004) review-“How do you do, fellow kids?” the movie

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.

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  • David and Elgin work for a drug kingpin on the side, which inevitably encroaches on their lives in the world of dance.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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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.

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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.

Verdict:

2/10

Corner store companion:

Listerine cool mint antiseptic mouthwash (to rinse that bad taste out of your mouth).

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Fun facts:

-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.