In South Central Los Angeles, there are two new schools of dancing: Krumping and Clowning. Set against the backdrop of a neighborhood with a horrible reputation, the new documentary "Rize" (IMDb listing) looks to shine a positive light on this downtrodden area through dance, artistic expression and demonstrations of humanity.
This look at extreme dancing is brought to the world by director David LaChapelle, a Caucasian music video director who gave the world the Christina Aguilera "Dirrty" event. LaChapelle, also a fashion photographer, probably isn't the most dependable filmmaker to lead this Krumping journey, but he has street cred, and "Rize" does have moments where you can't take your eyes off the dazzling movement presented with striking clarity.
"Rize" is strongest when it only concerns the unique dancing and its debatable artistic merit. We meet the members of the two teams of dancers, and they detail their life stories and what brought them to the medium, portraying themselves as hardened individuals who love the creativity and individuality the two dance styles bring them. If there's a central character to "Rize," it's Tommy the Clown, a hip-hop jester who kicked off the painted-face Clowning routine years back, only to see its spastic offspring, Krumping (imagine genitals dipped in hot sauce, and that might explain how this frantic, elastic dance looks to the average outsider), take a bigger slice of the attention cake. Tommy is a warm personality, and his desire to help his community is one of the bright spots in the film, especially when that desire is unexpectedly violated with vandalism and theft after his Clowning gang gets the best of the Krumpers at a local competition.
However, "Rize" features far too many cripplingly preachy and stylistic flourishes. The film soon morphs into a requiem for the troubled neighborhood, complete with an opening montage of historic riot footage, and a closing quote by Martin Luther King. Whatever LaChapelle is trying to say about the African-American experience in this neighborhood is constantly erased by his visual flair, which often captures the Krumpers in slow-mo, heavily soaked for maximum glistening abdominal action, directly compromising the actual dance, which relies on speed and low-tech self-brutality.
And for those in the audience who just don't get the primal beat behind Krumping and Clowning, LaChapelle has included file footage of African tribes dancing in similar ways just to hammer home the point. Offensive or enlightening? You tell me.
"Rize" has energy, but it comes across in a Gap commercial way that doesn't do justice to what these dancers are trying to accomplish and escape. For now, "Rize" is a good time capsule and little more.
Filmfodder Grade: C-