October 18, 2007

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Feel the Noise (PG-13)
A New York hip-hop kid learns to follow his dreams when he goes to Puerto Rico and hooks up with his reggaeton stepbrother in Feel the Noise, a plucky not-so-bad movie about believing in yourself and keeping it real.

Take the Lead. Stomp the Yard. Drumline. Save the Music. Stick It. That 50 Cent movie. All stories of kids who keep it real and rise above poverty or loneliness or the streets or adults who don’t believe in them or their own pasts to dance/step/play/do a gymnastic routine/rap their way. Mix up the characters’ traits, the circumstances and the talent and you have yourself a new blockbuster (or at least a new teen-focused movie that you can convince the movie-going public to spend $3.2 million to see in two weeks, as with this movie after its second weekend).

Feel the Noise isn’t shockingly innovative but it’s surprisingly fresh for a story rerun so many times.

Perhaps some of that is due to the general likeability of Rob (Omarion Grandberry), a kid from the streets and aspiring rapper who is sent to live with the father (Giancarlo Esposito) he’s never met. Dad lives in Puerto Rico and though Rob’s not thrilled about moving there he finds a bit of a groove once he meets Javi (Victor Rasuk), his father’s new wife’s son. Javi broadcasts music over the Internet and is working on some hot reggaeton beats. He explains this different form of music to Rob, who incorporates some of his lyrics as the two create a song.

And if a music partner isn’t enough, Rob even finds a potential love interest in C.C. (Zulay Henao), a dancer who’s also looking to make it big.

Things aren’t all bright in San Juan, however. Just as Rob found trouble at home, he inadvertently finds a bit of trouble in Puerto Rico. And, on the professional front, he just doesn’t know if he can trust the slick New York producer who seems to be looking a little too hard at C.C.

Though Grandberry is this movie’s lead, its real star is reggaeton. For those who seldom dance to anything faster than Save Ferris’ cover of “Come on Eileen”: reggaeton is a kind of hip-hop souped up with Latin beats or a kind of merengue streeted up with hip-hop. Listen to a little Daddy Yankee on the iTunes and you’ll get a sense of the music. It’s dirty-dance friendly, aggressive and infectious. It’s fun to watch the kids put their songs together, even if it’s only a rough approximation of how the music actually works. Part of the backstory of Rob’s dad is that he used to be a Latin music drummer; it’s fun to watch how his style of drumming melds with his new music.

Of the human characters, none break free from the clichés of this film’s formula but they do manage to make their cliché characters watchable. The young leads — Grandberry, Rasuk and Henao — have the kind of rawness you expect from someone’s first post-college film. Not so slick, they are also not so produced. They don’t feel like “talent” yet, just awkward people. It helps keep the movie from becoming the kind of bland teen product that features lots of smooth skin and pretty voices but no heart. C+

Rated PG-13 for sensuality and innuendos, violence, some drug use and language. Directed by Alejandro Chomski and written by Albert Leon, Feel the Noise is an hour and 26 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Sony Pictures.