|Zulay Henao (left) and Omarion Grandberry star in this homage to reggaeton music co-produced by Jennifer Lopez. (Will Sterns/Columbia Pictures)|
'Feel the Noise' needs to pump up the volume
Old story, new beat: That sums up "Feel the Noise," an acceptable if resolutely average low-budget drama set in the New York/Puerto Rican musical melting pot known as reggaeton.
Reggaeton's a hybrid of hip-hop, merengue, reggae, dance hall, and everything else from the Caribbean buffet table; it's been around more than a decade, which makes the movie a little late to the feast. Co-produced by Jennifer Lopez, "Feel the Noise" won't convert anyone who's not already a fan, but it gives performing artists like Voltio and Alexis & Fido some screen time, onstage and off, and director Alejandro Chomski shoots in San Juan like he actually knows the place. Whatever the movie is, it's not phony.
The soft-spoken star is Omarion Grandberry ("You Got Served"), better known as the R&B singer Omarion. He plays Rob, a Bronx kid and upcoming rapper who's torn between good and bad impulses. To straighten him out, his momma (Kellita Smith) packs him off to Puerto Rico and the father he never knew (Giancarlo Esposito).
There Rob meets Javi (Victor Rasuk, of "Raising Victor Vargas"), an easygoing stepbrother who introduces him to the local rhythms and artists. Javi knows his turntablism, Rob's good at lyrics; throw in a beauteous young dancer named C.C. (Zulay Henao), and we're in Mickey-and-Judy let's-put-out-a-CD territory.
"Feel the Noise" huffs and puffs to work up dramatic steam: Rob has to work out his issues over his father's abandonment, C.C. has to cope with a lecherous talent manager (James McCaffrey), there's a psycho ex-boyfriend lurking around the fringes. Ironically, the movie's at its best when it drops the melodramatics and just lets its characters be themselves. There's a baseline air of mutual respect you don't often see in hip-hop movies; the filmmaking may be functional, but it glimpses something like real life behind the braggadocio.
Could have used more music, though. "Feel the Noise" winds up at New York's annual Puerto Rican Day parade, an explosion of color and sound that takes a back seat to the plot, which has already been tortured enough, thank you. Earlier, Javi has described reggaeton as "our struggle, our dreams," so why does the movie make it struggle to be heard?