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Friday, January 25, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

On the move

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2.5 stars

"How She Move," with Rutina Wesley, Tré Armstrong, Dwain Murphy. Directed by Ian Iqbal Rashid, from a screenplay by Annmarie Morais. 91 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some drug content, suggestive material and language. Several theaters.

Whether it's step-dancing, ballet or anything in between, dance-competition movies are pretty much all the same; it's just the dances that change. A misunderstood kid turns to dance to express himself/herself, obstacles arise and are overcome, and the third-act dance competition is staged for maximum suspense (though we usually know who's going to win). And that's how things work out in "How She Move," a competent if uninspired tale of a young woman whose unhappy life is changed by step-dance, that urban blend of hip-hop, tap and line dancing.

Raya (Rutina Wesley) is a grave-eyed teen who, in the film's opening scenes, is reluctantly moving back to her family's cramped apartment in a graffiti-laden, crime-ridden neighborhood. A former student at a posh boarding school, she's had to return home after her parents could no longer afford the tuition — Raya's late sister's drug addiction drained their savings. Her parents, both Jamaican immigrants, are unable to discuss their loss; instead, Raya's mother pushes her remaining daughter to study hard and be successful.

Shunned by old friends who now think she's stuck-up, Raya spends much of her time alone — until she learns of a step competition whose vast cash prize could send her back to the school she longs for. "You got a serious step," a boy tells her admiringly. Enter the obstacles, right on time for the movie's second act: Step, it turns out here, is gender-segregated, and girls aren't welcome on the big-money all-male teams. And Raya's mother doesn't want her to step because that's what her sister used to do.

The energy of step-dance is presented here as the bright light in Raya's otherwise dark life, and it's irresistible; the dancers stomp, wiggle and fling themselves at the floor with abandon. Director Ian Iqbal Rashid (a long way from his previous movie, the charming gay romantic comedy "A Touch of Pink") takes us through the plot with a minimum of fuss, and newcomer Wesley lets us see how Raya's subdued, held-back personality explodes on the dance floor. There's not much that's surprising in "How She Move," but watching how she moves is a pleasure.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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