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King of the Dancehall
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that King of the Dancehall is a 2017 movie in which Nick Cannon plays a man from Brooklyn who moves to Jamaica and becomes immersed in the life of dancehall music and culture. The movie is primarily spoken in Jamaican patois, with English subtitles. There's frequent profanity, including regular use of "f--k" and its variations. Other cursing includes "p---y," "bitch," "a--hole," and "s--t." Gratuitous sex scenes steer clear of showing nudity, with strategically placed long hair over breasts. There are lots of dance scenes in which the camera slows down while filming close-ups of female buttocks twerking. A character is shot and killed. Fight scenes include the lead character getting beaten up in jail, and a member of a gang carving the gang's logo into the back of a rival gang member with a switchblade. Characters smoke marijuana and cigarettes, and there's drinking in a dance club. The lead character tries to buy $5,000 worth of marijuana. Overall, the story of dancehall culture is overshadowed by the sex and violence of the lead character's immersion into gang life in Jamaica.
What's the story?
Tarzan (Nick Cannon) has just been paroled after five years in prison for dealing drugs, and is back in Brooklyn. His mother (Whoopi Goldberg) is sick and trying to make ends meet; despite her asking Tarzan to live a righteous life, he instead goes to Jamaica with the intention of buying $5,000 worth of marijuana and using the profits to help cover his mother's medical expenses. Upon arrival in Jamaica, he hooks up with his cousin Toasta (Busta Rhymes), who introduces Tarzan to the dancehall scene, and by extension, the seedy underworld of a dance culture whose style has been copied by so many back in the States. Soon Tarzan meets Maya, the beautiful sister of Toasta's wife. As she teaches him how to dance the dancehall way, Tarzan's skills improve quickly, and a romance ensues. This arouses the ire of Dada, a white gangster leader whose father is a high-ranking official on the island, and also the ire of Maya's fire-and-brimstone preacher father (Louis Gossett Jr.). Soon Tarzan and his crew face retaliation at every turn, even landing Tarzan back in jail. Tarzan must find a way out of jail, be ready to compete in a $10 million dancehall dance competition, and cement his legend as the once and forever KING OF THE DANCEHALL.
Is it any good?
This movie attempts to show the traditions, dancing, and seedy underbelly of Jamaican dancehall culture. There's a lot to discover: the competitions, the dance gangs, and dancehall's pervasive influence on the choreography of pop singers in the States. It's a subculture worth exploring, one with plenty of characters and potential for excitement and conflict. While some of that is explored here, the plot spoils this potential with gratuitous sex and violence and the kind of self-indulgence in which director, writer, and lead actor Nick Cannon decides in various scenes to take his shirt off and reveal his six-pack abs.
It's almost as if there's a lack of faith in the substance of King of the Dancehall, so Cannon decided to throw in stylized sex scenes and violence in case the dancing wasn't enough for everyone. And even with the dancing, the cameras never stay still long enough, and Cannon's incessant voice-overs don't stop long enough to just let the audience experience for themselves how good the dancing is. And the tropes to the story, such as the dying mother who needs money posthaste to pay for her medical bills, the beautiful woman whose father is a fire-and-brimstone preacher who doesn't like the lead character's sinful ways, and the outsider who can't dance at first but then suddenly excels, are clichés that clash with the moments when the movie works best. Those moments are when dancehall -- and Jamaica, period -- are given some space to speak in its patois (with very helpful English subtitles), its dancers are given the space to perform, and the scenery of Jamaica itself is allowed to shine. Unfortunately, these moments get overwhelmed by everything else.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Jamaica's dancehall culture. How is this subculture shown through the story, the characters, and the setting of King of the Dancehall?
Did the sex and violence seem necessary to the movie, or did it feel gratuitous? Why?
How does this movie compare to other movies centered on dancing?
For kids who love dance
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.