'Bravetown': Film Review

Dean Buscher
This melodrama with dance is hard to stomach.

Lucas Till of the "X-Men" films plays a troubled teen DJ who helps a small Midwestern town come to grips with the loss of its young people to war.

It's hard what to make of Daniel Duran's directorial debut which combines the dance-as-liberation theme of the Step Up movies with a heartfelt depiction of a Middle America small town traumatized by the loss of its young people to war. Assembling its series of clichés into a nearly indigestible mess, Bravetown squanders an excellent cast in a melodrama that, with only slight tonal tweaks, could pass for parody.

The story centers on troubled teen Josh (Lucas Till of the X-Men movies), a top DJ at a NYC club to which he almost certainly wouldn't be allowed entry because of his age. Neglected by his mother (Maria Bello) whose idea of nurturing is to tell him that she never wanted him in the first place, he suffers an accidental drug overdose.

Instead of, say, being sent to juvenile detention or rehab, he's ordered by the judge to spend a year in North Dakota with his father (Tom Everett Scott) who he's never known. Arriving in the town named — wait for it — Paragon, Josh is an immediate fish out of water, sullenly spending most of his time alone with headphones firmly clamped on.

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Greeted by the students and even the principal as a celebrity (who knew that the heartland was so hip?), Josh is reluctantly called into service to use his musical skills to prop up the fortunes of the school's perennially competition-losing dance team. Making the situation somewhat more palatable is his attraction to its sexy leader captain, Mary (Kherinton Payne).

It soon becomes clear that the town's citizens are suffering from a collective case of PTSD, including Mary's pill-addled mother (Laura Dern) who ignores her living children while dwelling obsessively on her lost son. Josh's court-ordered therapist (a nicely underplaying Josh Duhamel), also a war vet, is another strange case; his counseling sessions consisting mainly of watching televised soccer matches and eating pizza.

In a scene meant to be deeply touching but that instead makes Tony Orlando & Dawn's song "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree" seem cutting edge, Mary takes Josh to the local monument, a large tree adorned with the medals of the town's fallen soldiers and illuminated by dozens of kerosene lamps.

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It all culminates — I kid you not — with Josh healing the town's emotional trauma by staging an interpretive dance inspired by the climactic scene of Oliver Stone's Platoon.

Although screenwriter Oscar Torres (Pulling Strings) seems to mean well, his hackneyed script piles on one contrivance after another. Oddly, for a story that seem like it would appeal only to the most undiscerning teenagers, the film has been slapped with an R rating — presumably for language— robbing it of whatever target audience it might have been able to attract.    

Production: 2 Wolves Films, Strings of Films
Cast: Josh Duhamel, Maria Bello, Laura Dern, Lucas Till, Kherington Payne, Sharelene Taule, Tom Everett Scott, Jae Head
Director: Daniel Duran
Screenwriter: Oscar Torres
Producers: Daniel Duran, Phyllis Laing, Danny Rodriguez, Oscar Torres
Director of photography: Angel Barroeta
Production designer: Tomas Voth
Editors: Matt Evans, Adam Gerstel
Costume designer: Heather Neale
Composer: Angelo Milli
Casting: Dominika Posseren, Janelle Scuderi, Kelly Wagner

Rated R, 110 min.