Article courtesy The Guardian written By: Jordan Hoffman
Photo credit: Maarten de Boer/Getty Images: "Rambunctious ... Nick Cannon, Kreesha Turner, Kimberly Patterson and Louis Gossett"
There’s plenty of flexing, flouncing and thrusting in Nick Cannon’s lighthearted tale of a New Yorker discovering Jamaica’s love for dance.
John Ford shot Monument Valley, Wes Anderson shoots highly stylized interiors and, if Nick Cannon continues to make films like King of the Dancehall, historians will note him for his worshipful appreciation of the female posterior. Shaking, gyrating, flexing and flouncing fundaments are front and centre of Cannon’s giddy Saturday Night Fever-goes-to-Kingston tale. Blessedly, they are in all shapes and sizes, and part of a Jamaican culture that revels in its people proudly displaying whatever junk is packed in their trunk. If you come from a sex-positive background, you’ll find this all to be a hell of a thing.
Cannon, who also wrote and stars in King of the Dancehall, narrates from the point of view of a Yankee foreigner, so his commentary (“all that ass should come with a seat belt!”) is a little coarse compared with the local attitude, but it’s all part of the cultural exchange. And adapting to a new culture is, to a degree, what this lighthearted and agreeable story is all about. Cannon’s Tarzan is a New Yorker just finishing a five year prison sentence. His ill mother (Whoopi Goldberg) has bills up to the wazoo, so Tarzan heads down to his cousin Toaster in Kingston (an almost unrecognisable Busta Rhymes) to work out a low-level drug running scheme.
But this is not a Scarface-like saga. Tarzan just wants enough money to make things right (Mum needs surgery, if you can believe it) but what he really needs is the love of his neighbour Maya (remarkable newcomer Kimberly Patterson). Maya is a Bishop’s daughter and steadfastly chaste, but that doesn’t mean she won’t get rambunctious at the dancehall. The way to her heart is to learn the moves, so Tarzan joins up with a crew of ridiculously buff guys, takes off his shirt and starts getting in rhythm.
The nightlife scenes are euphoric and sensual, and Cannon has the good sense to let them play out at length. Scenes of Tarzan and Toaster busting each other’s chops are terrific, especially when the sourpuss aunt who “hasn’t smiled since 1979” is giving them guff as she serves them rice and peas. Everyone but Tarzan speaks in a patois so thick the film uses subtitles and Jamaican music legend Beenie Man acts as something of a Greek chorus. Even though the screenplay is loaded with cliche and its twists are absurd and predictable, when it settles into a groove there is a terrific sense of place. Somehow, the far-fetched nature of the plot still rings true.
The third act of the film ties itself up in some ridiculous mob boss scenes (Peter Stormare plays a European who likes to tell stories about Paul Simonon of the Clash) and while many may turn their nose up at this sharp tonal turn, it feels in line with the low budget regional filmmaking from the 1970s. The 1972 Jimmy Cliff vehicle The Harder They Come is clearly something of an influence here.
For all the oogling on the dance floor, the gaze does go both ways, and there is something of a respectful message to women. For every patriarchal utterance of “you’re my girl” there’s a willingness to respect Maya’s decision to keep things slow in the bedroom. But the dancehall is a fire pit, and naturally the picture ends with a battle royale in which Tarzan (who only just started to learn his moves) has to save the world with his sweat-glistening abs and thrusting pelvis. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m calling a travel agent to book a trip to Jamaica.