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Desert Dancer Review

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Iran, 2009. Defying the law, a bunch of young people start meeting up to dance. Will they get caught? Or will the groove prevail?

★★★★★

It’s the kind of true-life story that sounds perfect for big-screen adaptation: a group of Iranian youths in 2009 defy their government’s crackdown on self-expression by starting a dance group. And yes, as the title implies, they end up in the desert, dodging the “morality police” and furiously throwing shapes. But despite some nicely shot and choreographed sequences, Richard Raymond’s directorial debut lacks in both energy and impact, leaning heavily on clichés and ending up as a fairly dreary watch.

The set-pieces see Reese Ritchie leaning on Bret’s angry-dance moves from Flight Of The Conchords.

Reese Ritchie is hero Afshin, who begins the movie getting in trouble for watching a bootleg video of Dirty Dancing and then recreating the moves at school. The beating he receives for this transgression does not quench his thirst for the boogie; as a young man he studies footage of Rudolf Nureyev ballets, before starting an underground meet-up that’s basically Fight Club with a lot more feather-steps. Ritchie is fine in the rather bland role, although the set-pieces see him leaning heavily on Bret’s angry-dance moves from Flight Of The Conchords. Freida Pinto has the marginally more interesting part, as rebellious beauty Elaleh, but she’s lumbered with a drug-addiction subplot that is unconvincing and veers wildly into melodrama.

There’s nothing massively wrong with any of it — the tale is told with obvious sincerity and respect for the subject matter. The problem is that it’s just all too familiar. Scenes go by without much in the way of zip or wit, making you yearn for the élan of Footloose, Desert Dancer’s obvious forerunner, or the grit of Rosewater, Jon Stewart’s similarly themed 2015 drama. For a film about rhythm, it’s just too plodding to really lose yourself in.

It strives to be a rousing tale of rebellion, but the over-earnest result is more slow shuffle than kicky capoeira.

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