What It’s About: Kel Mitchell is a dancer who can only do karate when music is playing, and he must use his awkward powers to win back his uncle’s club.
Who It’s For: Kenan Thompson.
Fans of comedy, art, auteurship, independent filmmaking, and sad masturbation jokes continually hold up FX’s Louie as the new paradigm under which future visionaries can operate, distributing their work to the masses on their own terms. I think it’s great that Louis C.K. gets to make his show just the way he wants to, and it’s clear that a lot of TV viewers and critics feel the same way. He’s making unpredictable television, which is increasingly rare, and comedy fans really enjoy rooting for the rich, wildly successful underdog with a record-breaking number of Emmy nominations. I hope he gets to do it forever. I hope he dies doing what he loves, during the show’s 50th season, and that in his will he has instructions on how to edit the last episode just so, the final shot lingering on his own face a few seconds too long. God bless you, Louis. See you at the crossroads.
But let’s also remember that not everybody is Louis C.K. He is wildly talented, and he’s spent a lifetime and an already brilliant career preparing for his show. Most people are not as ready as he is and probably never will be. One person who is not Louis C.K., for example, is Kel Mitchell, formerly of comedy duo Kenan and Kel, Good Burger, and Nickelodeon’s All That. Maybe you have always thought to yourself, “Kel Mitchell is like a younger, shorter Louis C.K.,” but that is not true. I haven’t heard much from Kel lately, but to be fair, we’d never been terribly in touch. But he’s been hard at work on his opus, Dance Fu, a family-friendly dance-action-horror-comedy. Mitchell wrote and produced the film, and he also plays both its hero and its lead, while Cedric the Entertainer directs. It’s a little like he’s Peter Sellers and this is his Dr. Strangelove, and it’s a lot like he’s Jean-Claude Van Damme and this is his Double Impact. Incidentally, Double Impact is the first R-rated movie I ever rented; I lied to my grandmother and said that my parents let me watch all Van Damme films regardless of their rating, and then I shamefully and quietly watched it on a VCR in my parents’ bedroom. It had swearing and nudity, and that alone made it a far more satisfying viewing experience than Dance Fu.
One of the more disappointing things about Dance Fu is how little dancing there is in the film, though there is ample fu. The film’s title, and a few early dance-off scenes, led me to believe this would be a dance-battle movie. I love dance battles, and I am always ready to step up 2 wherever. The main character is Chicago Pulaski Jones (Kel Mitchell), and he is a championship dancer in Chi-town, though we never see him win any championships. It’s also confusing how his name is Chicago and he lives in Chi-town. “Hi, my name is Chicago, though all my friends call my Chi. I’m from Chi-town, a.k.a Chicago.” Chicago says, “I have never known how to fight. But I could always dance my way out of trouble.” He says to an unexplained attacker, “If you don’t beat me up, I’ll teach you a move.” Anybody who decides against beating someone up in order to learn “a move” was never that invested in beating the person up in the first place. “I have two insatiable thirsts: whooping ass, and learning new moves. Time to get QUENCHED.”
Luckily, we see a little dance-battling, as Chicago has one final battle in the city. I love watching dancing and I have zero criticisms of this scene. Dancing is perfect. Chicago (the dancer, not the city) decides it’s time to make the big move to Hollybank to work at his uncle Daddy J’s new club, Tatou, which is presumably a tribute to t.A.T.u., the original Pussy Riot. Daddy J’s nemesis is Pretty-Eyed Willy (Kel Mitchell). Willy looks like if Andre 3000 took a lot of pill drugs in the ’90s, and in every scene he wears a different eye patch. Mitchell differentiates Chicago from Willy by having Willy yell every single line. Have you ever wanted to watch a movie where most of the dialogue is snarled in the exact same volume and tone as Dave Chappelle yelling, “I’m Rick James, bitch”? It gets exhausting much more quickly than you might think, unless you think it would get exhausting nearly immediately, in which case you are spot on.
Willy has a club, too, called Mascara, but it’s not a popular club. Everybody is across town at Tatou, and that makes Willy so mad. It’s confusing, though, because Tatou has its grand opening a few scenes later, so I am not clear on how it’s already so popular, but I probably just don’t get how clubs work. Daddy J is at the barbershop and generously gives everyone in the barbershop VIP passes to his club. The extras thank him by accidentally looking straight into the camera. Willy shows up at the barbershop and says to Daddy J, “This is my final offer. I want the club.” That really seems like that’s his first offer. The club just opened, or hasn’t even opened yet; how many offers has Willy made? It doesn’t work. Daddy J refuses, and Willy says, “Time for Plan B.” Willy seems like a terrible businessman. “First you give them your final offer, then you move on to Plan B.” He screams at one of the barbers, “Give me my money!” The barber refuses, so he punches the barber so hard he teleports to the alley, where it is now nighttime, even though it’s daytime in the barbershop. Great punch. I also don’t know what Willy wanted money for. I guess Willy is meant to be a sort of gangster, but he also seems really concerned about how many people come to his club. Is he collecting protection money from the barbershop? Or does he just yell that at random people? He yells a lot, so I bet it works some of the time.
Chicago meets Daddy J at Tatou, and his uncle has a surprise for him. Chicago’s childhood sweetheart Chaka is the headlining singer at Tatou. Chicago’s in love all over again, and we have to watch Chaka sing an entire song. It’s like a music video, if the singers in music videos didn’t even bother to lip-synch and instead just held the microphones near their mouths while they smiled and also they cut away every 10 seconds to Kel Mitchell looking horny.
While this 18-minute song is going on, Willy and his cronies have broken into Daddy J’s office. Willy pulls off the skeleton glove he is wearing, and one of his hands is made of glowing lava. He uses it to choke Daddy J to death. His cronies are holding Daddy J back during this, so I don’t know why he needs a lava hand to choke people to death. My understanding is that regular hands are also adequate for choking people to death. With Daddy J dead, Willy gets his “signature” on a handwritten deed to the club; the signature is Daddy J’s thumbprint. It’s way too easy to transfer club ownership these days. You should need more than a thumbprint. Also, if somebody was murdered, and then a noted crime lord and competitor showed up with the thumbprint deed to the place, I’d definitely peg that person as a suspect. But I guess I’m no policeman. I’m no Cedric the Entertainer.
Cedric the Entertainer plays the detective at the scene of the murder. He is very, very funny in this movie. He says, “Case closed. This guy’s dead.” Cedric tries to calm down a hysterical Chicago. “The thing about it, man, is when people die it’s hard,” he says. “There are so many reasons he could have died.” I love this detective. It’s a hilarious monologue and this movie should have been all dance battles and Cedric the Entertainer talking. But then we never see the detective again. We also never see another dance battle. Bad news.
As his family and friends gather to mourn Daddy J at his funeral, Pretty-Eyed Willy shows up on a Razor scooter that makes motorcycle sounds and takes responsibility for Daddy J’s murder. Willy is horrible at covering up his crimes. Chicago yells, “This better be a joke!” Saying you murdered someone at his or her funeral would not be a very good joke, but it’d be an appropriately funny joke for this movie. Willy tells Chicago that it’s true. “Why’d you do it?” “Because I’m a villain. That’s what villains do.” You don’t see it, do you, Mr. Frodo? He’s a villain.
Willy’s gang tries to murder Chicago in the parking lot, but a mysterious kung fu stranger steps in and saves Chicago. Chicago wakes up to find himself in the home of Julius Ho (Affion Crockett), a pretty offensive martial arts character. His lips don’t match up with his words, and there are lots of dropped “R” sounds and offers of collard greens and kimchi casserole. Ho begins to train Chicago in martial arts in order to defeat Willy, but Chicago just can’t figure it out. He’s so bad at fighting! This was established earlier. But in a moment of frustration, he flips on a boombox and starts dancing, a thing he is a champion at, and also punching and kicking. Ho notices the change and tries to fight Chicago, but Chicago beats him. “When the music is playing, you are graceful and can fight like nobody’s business. Like some sort of crazy Dance Fu.” Ho and Chicago have discovered Dance Fu!
Now for some sad news: If you thought Dance Fu was going to be some sort of elegant combination of dancing and kung fu, it is not. This is not gymkata, fusing together two disparate physical forms. It is also not capoeira, otherwise known as Brazilian dance-fighting. Basically, when Chicago hears music, he starts dancing a tiny bit (a small head bop, or a little tap-dancing) and then proceeds to just punch people. It’s very disappointing. It’s also gross how Kel Mitchell looks while doing it; he bites his bottom lip and gets all focused and you can tell he clearly thinks he is the Michael Jackson of both dancing and also fighting.
With Willy running Daddy J’s club and Chaka imprisoned by Pretty-Eyed’s gang, Chicago must use his new Dance Fu moves to save everybody. Luckily for him, Dance Fu is very effective. Every time he starts doing it, people stare at him with a look of “What the fuck are you doing?” Then everybody just lets themselves get punched. The rest of the movie is a series of fight scenes in which a variety of obstacles are placed between Chicago and hearing the music that makes him invincible. In one scene, as two random hoods dressed in baseball uniforms beat him up for no reason, he calls for a bystander to play a ringtone. Then he beats everybody up. In another, he’s invincible while wearing headphones until they get ripped out. On the dance floor of Willy’s Tatou, the DJ scratches the record and strangely this doesn’t let Chicago finish his punch. He nearly loses his life.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, Tommy Davidson, whom I love, plays a crackhead (named Addict) who tries to kidnap Chicago for Willy’s gang. It’s very depressing. He improvs lots of different dances (“The Raptor! The Rodeo!”) and isn’t wearing a shirt, and the less said about the whole thing the better. I miss you, Tommy Davidson. His character has a jacket full of crack bags, and I was under the impression that crack addicts didn’t always just have a ton of crack, but what do I know. Anyway, Chicago escapes.
Having witnessed Chicago’s stumbling during the dance-floor fight, Willy figures out Chicago’s music weakness. He takes him to a music-less parking lot for a climactic final battle. Knocking Chicago to the ground, he again uses his lava hand to choke Chicago to death. But Chicago begins to hear the music all around him, the music in the world. What I mean is, the final scene becomes Stomp, as trash cans closing and car alarms switching on become a symphony of boring. “What? You’re dancing? There ain’t no music!” Willy cries. Chicago beats Willy to death. Chicago takes back over his uncle’s club and is reunited with Chaka.
Except we then see this mysterious lava hand separate from Willy’s dead body at the morgue, grab a needle from a “tray,” and resurrect Willy from the dead. He’s back! Or is he? What? Does Willy represent Kel’s career? Is his hand Kenan? What was in the magic life-saving needle and why didn’t they use it before? These questions are all as interesting as the movie itself.
When You Should Watch It: When you feel like not enjoying a movie about dancing, and you also feel like not enjoying a movie about kung fu, but only have time to watch one of them.