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Fast Forward; Review by Robin Franson Pruter

fast_forwardOriginally released 15 February 1985
Screenplay by Richard Wesley; Story by Timothy March
Directed by Sidney Poitier

Starring John Scott Clough, Don Franklin, and Irene Worth

My rating: ★ 1/2 stars

Teen dance musical hampered by ridiculous script.

I applaud this musical’s intentions. One of the first teen movies to present a racially diverse cast, without specifically being about issues of race, it attempts to blend urban and mainstream styles of music and dancing. It features a plot reminiscent of the old Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland musicals. It also contains scenes of urban dance battles, which first appeared in movies the year before it with Breakin’ (1984), a film that played to largely urban audiences. (Dance battle movies would become a popular sub-genre 20 years later, beginning with 2004’s You Got Served.)

Having gotten a personal recommendation from the owner of a New York talent agency, eight fresh-faced teens, calling themselves “The Adventurous Eight,” travel from Ohio to the city to make it in the music industry. There, they discover that the agency’s owner has died, and his replacement, the evil, greedy Clem Friedkin (Sam McMurray), gives them the brush-off. Nevertheless, they persevere and learn how to survive in the big city. Eventually, with the help of the founder’s widow, Ida Sabol (Irene Worth), they get a shot at performing in the big talent contest put on by the agency. Two ideas underlie this plot: that the music business should be more about music and less about business and that the world should be fair. In this way, the movie is hopelessly naïve and plays best to an audience that is not more than 12-years-old.

Despite the racial diversity of the cast and the fact that the lead singer of the group, Michael (Don Franklin), is African-American, the narrative focuses on the white members of the group. Lyricist, manager, and back-up singer/dancer Matt (John Scott Clough) gets torn between his hometown girlfriend and bandmate, June (Tamara Mark), and New York debutante Susan Granger (Karen Kopins). I wonder if the filmmakers thought that giving the story to the African-American members of the group would limit the film’s appeal to mainstream audiences.

The screenplay fails on every level. The story is trite, and the characters are generally flat and uninteresting. Most of them are interchangeable. Having eight in the group prevents more than a few of the members getting any significant development. Also, the attempted rape of group members Debbie (Debra Varnado) and Meryl (Tracy Silver) is too serious an incident to belong in such an inconsequential piece of fluff. The dialogue throughout the movie is ludicrous. I doubt anyone could watch Michael tell the group, “We have to get awesome!” and not break out in unintended laughter, a response to many of the exchanges in the film. I suspect that no amount of rewrites could have saved this film, but they would not have hurt it.

The performances don’t help, either. Clough, who has to do the majority of the acting among the young people, has a rhythm of delivery perfectly suited to comedy. Unfortunately, this film is not one. The rest of The Adventurous Eight, who were hired more for their dancing ability than for their ability to act, look uncomfortable in scenes where acting is required. Only Worth delivers better than the material requires, making her scenes the best non-dancing ones in the film.  

The dance numbers, choreographed by Rick Atwell, are the best part of the movie and the reason it’s getting any stars at all. But even they’re not great. The costumes, choreography, and staging all look as if they could actually come from non-professional teenagers, which, while accurate to the movie, means that they don’t stand with the best sequences from the classic musicals that eschew such realism. The two dance battles with a rival crew led by Caesar Lopez (Michael DeLorenzo) are highlights. After being soundly beaten by Caesar and his crew in the first battle, The Adventurous Eight return to defeat the New Yorkers. However, the final face-off between Caesar and Michael doesn’t convince me that The Adventurous Eight should have won. DeLorenzo is a better dancer than Franklin and seems to my untrained eye to have more difficult choreography. But, of course, our heroes have to win.

Director Sidney Poitier, who directed no other musicals, films the dancing mostly in full-body shots, which lets the audience see the whole of the dance. Too many directors insert the directorial presence into dance scenes by providing close-ups of feet or faces or anything but the full bodies and, thus, diminish the dancing. Poitier avoids this, moving the camera enough to prevent the scenes from being static but letting the dancing take center stage, so to speak.

The music varies from forgettable to not too bad. The title song is the best of the bunch and wisely appears at the climax. In a confusing arrangement, Michael’s singing voice is actually Clough’s, with Franklin lip-synching. When both Michael and Matt appear in a song, the second male voice is provided by Kipp Lennon (credited as Kip Lennon) of the folk rock band Venice. The movie versions of the songs do not appear on the soundtrack album; on the album, the songs are credited to the R&B duo Deco, with lead vocals provided by Lennon.

Fast Forward is best watched as a series of dance numbers. All the viewer has to do is to follow the viewing instructions provided by the title and fast forward through the rest of the movie.

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