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You Got Served

Year: 2004
Production Co: Gotta Dance Inc
Director: Christopher B Stokes
Writer: Christopher B Stokes
Spoiler
Spoiler!

With mirror shades and pendulous breasts swinging in the breeze in a bikini top that barely holds them back from the camera, Lil' Kim declares that the final showdown is to be 'straight street'.

Straight Street? Is that near Bendy Lane, or Perpendicular Boulevard?

You Got Served knew where it was aiming when it left the barrel, but too many adverse environmental conditions interfered with its weak trajectory and it barely even hit the board, let alone the bullseye.

What Lil' Kim wanted to say — what the movie wanted her to say — was 'We're takin' this muthafucka down to Compton'.

But by then the whole thing has spiralled into bad satire that didn't know it was, a lot like the overused device of a completely out of place character appropriating LA hip hop vernacular for comic effect (Adam Sandler's elderly music student in The Wedding Singer, Warren Beatty in Bulworth, Eugene Levy in Bringing Down the House, the whole cast of The Fighting Temptations).

The adverse conditions that buggered up You Got Served's aim has all the hallmarks of a panicky studio reaction to a test screening. It wouldn't be the first time a film has been made for adults (or at least kidults) and remixed for kids when a producer or suit viewed some rushes and proclaimed 'adults will hate this shit'.

In an archetypal South Central LA locale, a group of young gangbangers battle it out for supremacy and respect in an underground scene until a gang of cocky rich kids challenges them to the a duel for ultimate glory. Can it be a boxing tournament? A rap battle? A drug war?

No, it's frigging breakdancing.

Now we all know everything old is new again. Since the onset of the media age we've seen fashions recycle themselves for every new generation, so it's without a doubt a cool breakdancing subculture exists in the world — a casual glance at the pop culture radar will tell us as much.

But has the pursuit of cool extrapolated hip-hop culture all the way (down) to groups of teenagers doing the robot? Only, it seems, in the movies where a bad-kids-from-the-street-trying-to-make-good template can be rendered kid-friendly and laid over any sport/pursuit/thrill you care to mention. Could losing the baddest cross-stich tournament on the streets get you served (whatever it means)?

The script — either pre or post editing —cherry picked everything it needed from the language and customs of rap music and black urban culture, and in leaving out everything that gives that culture its artistic vitality, left a toothless hulk, Rugrats for the Dre generation.

When the heroine can speak lines like 'your boy is really tripping' and 'he bugs out every time I mention your name' with a straight face but there isn't one utterance of the word 'motherfucker' in the whole film, you know you're watching the pale shadow of urban culture, one the film is desperate to claim for itself but which it has no right to.

But if linguistic anomalies were all that was wrong with You Got Served, it would hardly join such an auspicious canon of arse as the Worst Movies Ever Made.

The plot follows a well-trod storyline plucked straight from the pages of an early Hughes brothers or John Singleton script, but every possible marker that denotes anything too hard for a cartoon audiences is removed. You'll stop looking forward to the chop shop or club full of ho's when you realise the whole film's for 12 year olds.

The heroes work for a drug dealer. Oh, sorry, they work for a crime lord transporting… something we never even hear mentioned. It's bad, because they're always promising each other it'll be their last time. When the plot propels one of the heroes to make a drop of the stuff by himself, his boy isn't there to watch his motherfuckin' (oops, sorry) back, and he gets seven shades of shit beaten out of him for the contents of the bag. Obviously not contraband Gummy Bears, then.

When the story puts the lads in the pocket of the scary crime lord (for losing his stuff), a potentially exciting subplot ensues. He'll kidnap the heroine, maybe the grandmother. He'll pull a gun and tell one of the guys he'll blow his head off if his friend doesn't come to the warehouse at midnight with the money or the shit.

But no, he drives off after delivering the much hoped-for threat and the next we hear of him, the wisened old Obi Wan figure of the story — the dance battle operator who looks and sounds like a bad Richard Pryor impression — has ratted him to the cops off camera and the whole problem's solved so the kids can get back to doing the robot for Lil' Kim's breasts.

But wait, just when you think you've got it worked out, the cute/annoying little kid — the one you just know is going to save the day — gets shot and dies! Yes, it's a spoiler, but here's the thing that doesn't fit.

we're watching a film where one of the heroes is in love with the sister of the other hero. When they 'trip' and 'bug out' and are no longer 'homies', her brother forbids her from seeing her fledgling 'nigga'. Like a 40s movie star, she meekly refuses to take his calls or see him instead of putting her painted nails on her ghetto-booty hips and telling her over-protective brother 'you don't own me beeyatch so don't go there, motherfucka!'

Fair enough then — we're watching South Central LA in an alternate universe — with no drugs, no swearing and no kids caught in the crossfire of Crips and Bloods unloading AKs at each other across Crenshaw Boulevard. But then the little kid, who you just know they're going to hoist onto their shoulders in the final freeze frame, gets blown away by a bullet. Did the studio suit go out for coffee, or back to his office for a blowjob from a hooker? Who quality controlled such a cantilevering tone?

With multiple dance sequences you can fast forward through for maximum efficiency (or watch while you fast forward through the rest if you like The Robot), You Got Served is a badly paced, wildly off-message retread of a thousand progenitors which all have better dialogue and premise, and scripts that aren't afraid to mention the word 'drugs'.

Clichés like the pre-climax training montage (the strains of 'Team America, Fuck Yeah!' inevitably arise in the mind) and the massively signposted Follow Your Dreams cues are all mixed into the recipe, and the result is a shoddy send-up of a distinctive culture. Without blunts, forties and bitches, the struggle to escape the hood looks like a pram ride down the swings.

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