The title of rapper and comedian Nick Cannon’s directorial film debut (which he also wrote and produced) is a bit of a misnomer. Though it does climax with a song and dance competition, School Dance—which sounds like it is focused on typical prom drama—centers more around gang violence amidst a high school lock in. More surprising, however, is that Cannon draws much inspiration for this film from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet (going even so far as to actually quote the play at one particularly odd moment). Once again the iconic play is set in a high school. But this time the Jets are The Ranger$, the popular African American boys who “run the school” with their incredible rapping and dance skills. They attract the attention of young Romeo, or Jason (Bobb’e J. Thompson), who wants to join them to win the attention of his fair Juliet, or Anastacia (Kristinia DeBarge). But Anastacia is related the Sharks, or the Eses, a gang of tatted Hispanic men who have a bone to pick with one of The Ranger$. Jason’s older cousin Day Day (Dashawn Blanks) has inherited his father’s debt to the most nefarious of Eses, Junior (Mariano Mendoza), and must repay it by midnight of the lock in.
On paper, School Dance could work as satire of gang culture, hip hop/rap music, and even gun violence in schools. Instead, the film becomes deeply unimaginative, turning any potential for satire into broadly stroked racism, choosing easy punch lines over actually funny or witty ones. It even goes so far as to perpetuate existing stereotypes regarding race, gang culture, police brutality, objectification of women, and teen romantic comedy tropes. Nearly everything about this film comes off not humorous, as it is intended, but offensive.
There are some deleted scenes and a (deeply uneven) feature commentary by Nick Cannon.
"School Dance" is on sale October 7, 2014 and is rated R. Comedy, Dance. Directed by Nick Cannon. Written by Nick Cannon, Nile Evans. Starring Bobbe J Thompson, George Lopez, Mike Epps, Wilmer Valderama.