'Breaking Through': Film Review

Breaking Through - H 2015
Courtesy of XLrator Media
Not exactly 'Dancing with the Stars.'

Screenwriter John Swetnam’s directing debut is a hip-hop coming-of-age drama set in Los Angeles.

No longer do we need to wonder what the screenwriter from the latest installment of an urban dance franchise who went on to script a tornado disaster movie would do with his first directorial opportunity. Step Up All In and Into the Storm writer John Swetnam’s debut is just as derivative as his earlier films, but also demonstrates that his dearth of imagination extends to directing as well. Although the film should have no trouble reaching its intended online audience, theatrical performance looks marginal.

Revisiting some of the same types of situations and themes explored in Step Up All In, Swetnam introduces aspiring young hip-hop performer and would-be Internet star Casey (Sophia Aguiar). "All I’ve ever wanted to do is dance," she coyly reveals, hoping that some creative moves, catchy beats and flashy video footage will put her L.A. crew in a position to reap the fame and fortune offered by a devoted online following. But composer Michelle’s (Taeko McCarroll) tracks are derivative, videographer JJ (Jordan Rodrigues) can shoot but can’t cut and the five-member crew’s choreography is less than inspiring. With online views of their videos barely cracking triple digits even after a year of effort, they’re all relieved when talent manager Quinn (Jay Ellis), who’s looking for the "next big Internet dance sensation," takes an interest in representing the group.

After backing their next video, a fairly generic, no-budget number shot in a public park, Quinn reveals his actual aspiration: exclusively representing Casey in her bid for hip-hop stardom. Reluctantly turning her back on her old crew and disregarding her struggling single mom’s admonitions to find a professional career, Casey straightens her wavy black hair, blings up her wardrobe and begins rehearsing with some real hip-hop celebrities in preparation for a major dance contest to be broadcast online. It’s not long, however, before Quinn’s motivations and loyalties are called into question, forcing Casey to reassess her future and the longtime collaborators who might still be help her break through.

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Swetnam’s rudimentary script, which pits Casey’s conflicted aspirations against any remaining loyalty to her best buds, relies primarily on coming-of-age stereotypes and dance-movie cliches. Although some actual  hip-hop stars do show up in an attempt to enliven the predominantly amateurish performances (rather indifferently choreographed by Ian Eastwood), French brothers Les Twins and Asian-American crew Poreotics don’t gel well with the film’s little-known cast.

Aguiar, a Britney Spears backup dancer, sulks and pouts her way through much of the movie when fame doesn’t find her fast enough, lighting up enough to remain passably relatable during performance scenes. The other dance crew members seem pretty much interchangeable with any other charismatic young actors, with none particularly standing out. John Legend’s executive producer credit and a single soundtrack contribution don’t elevate Breaking Through much above B-movie material and Swetnam’s reliance on nondescript practical locations, perhaps in an attempt to look appropriately street, only emphasizes the film’s low-budget origins.

Production companies: BB Films, Mad Horse Films, Get Lifted Film Co.

Cast: Sophia Aguiar, Jordan Rodrigues, Robert Roldan, Taeko McCarroll, Marissa Heart, Jay Ellis, Bruna Marquezine

Director-writer: John Swetnam

Producers: Fabio Golombek, Uri Singer, Luis Fragali, Mike Jackson 

Executive producers: John Legend, Ty Stiklorius

Director of photography: Jonathan Hall 

Production designer: Alessandro Marvelli

Costume designer: Noel Jean

Editor: Claudia Castello 

Music: Dennis Smith 

Casting: Erica L. Silverman   

No rating, 101 minutes