The Nick Cannon led King of the Dancehall captures the frenetic energy of a dancehall music video while simultaneously stripping the soul of this ‘voice of the people’ genre. Cannon fills the seat of the four most important roles in a film- Producer, Writer, Director and Actor. It doesn’t take long to realize he should have left at least three of these roles to other people. With storylines introduced but barely developed erratic and often puzzling story transitions, the film falls flat. Before watching the film, I caught up with Cannon’s co-star and singer, Kreesha Turner at her downtown Toronto apartment. Kreesha, a Jamaican-Canadian, introduced Cannon to the island.
"I was there from the beginning. I had the opportunity to bring Nick to Jamaica for the first time. I took him to my favourite places- Hellshire, to Screechies, to the dancehall. As a proud Jamaican, I was just showing my country. It made sense that he saw these things and was fascinated by them. I took him to Mojito Mondays and I said you have to see this, this is when the crews come out. And he is like what crews? And then they started dancing and his eyes just lit up. He asked if anyone has ever made a movie about this and I said no sir they haven't. So that's how it all started."
The docu-style film tells the story Tarzan Brixton (Nick Cannon) recently released from prison in Brooklyn, New York. He served five years for attempted robbery. Tarzan visits his mother (played by Whoopi Goldberg) who is ill. A sick mother means medical bills which means money, thus the newly freed convict decides to return to the “hustle” to earn the money to care for her except for one thing, he will go to Jamaica. It seems as the plane touched in Jamaica, the story lost all sense of direction and foundation.
Cannon with US $5000 approaches his cousin, Toast (played masterfully by Trevor Smith Jr. aka Busta Rhymes) with a plan to multiply the funds through the sale of marijuana. Enter the dancehall and the girl. Toast is a DJ and Selector taking Tarzan to the local dance where he witnesses the Jamaican dance crew for the first time. Here, Tarzan’s love interest, Maya (played with a charming innocence by Jamaican Kimberly Patterson) grinds on him. He doesn’t do much to grind back being totally unfamiliar with the dance form. His inability to perform when challenged to do so obviously hit a nerve, and of course, lays the foundation for romance.
This could have been the beginning of a beautiful love story a la Save the Last Dance but it instead it was a messy and tightly packed film with too many storylines and too many elements with none of them being developed. Tarzan manages to become the “King of the Jungle” and a dancehall legend in a mere six months despite not being the best dancer on screen. He becomes a threat to the island’s “don” ( a brilliant performance by Colin 'Collie Buddz' Harper), and a household name in the dancehall. Being aware of the hidden nature of this culture, Cannon shares narration duties with Moses Davis (aka Beenie Man) explaining every bit of the dancehall. The fear that the audience won’t understand weakens the quality of the story, and story isn’t something the dancehall is lacking. In fact, the dancehall became nothing more than a backdrop for Nick Cannon’s directorial debut. If he plans to direct in the future, Cannon may want to consider creating a coherent timeline and a story that doesn’t transition between genres. In the second half of the film, we were plunged into a psycho-thriller for a full five minutes. I still want those five minutes back.
The dancehall is an alluring space brimming with sexuality, bravado and story. The people that claim and own the dancehall command your respect. For this reason, many don’t enter the space without a guide. It is a kingdom of extroverts. The King of Dancehall is a mere blurry snapshot of this compelling culture. Perhaps Cannon the filmmaker sought to achieve too much, or maybe the story wasn’t his to tell. Simply put, the film fails to capture the dancehall in spite of the cameos and well-choreographed dance routines. Why? It failed to look beyond. The time wasted narrating the story could have been better spent showing the story. King of the Dancehall fails to trust the audience’s ability to understand a story. For all its passion and heart ( you can’t deny Cannon’s heart), the film fails to ‘ride di riddim’ sinking under the weight of all the ideas Cannon tried to pack in.