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With: Freida Pinto, Reece Ritchie, Tom Cullen, Nazanin Boniadi, Makram J. Khoury, Gabriel Senior, Bamshad Abedi-Amin
Written by: Jon Croker, based on the life story of Afshin Ghaffarian
Directed by: Richard Raymond
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, some drug material and violence
Running Time: 98
Date: 04/10/2015

Desert Dancer (2015)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Dangerous Moves

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Based on the true life story of Afshin Ghaffarian, Desert Dancer nonetheless relies on a batch of old dance movie cliches, from the "forbidden dance" of Footloose and the like, to a hokey on-stage denouncement at the climax.

As a boy in Iran, Afshin Ghaffarian (Reece Ritchie) stumbles upon a DVD of Dirty Dancing and longs to become a dancer himself, even though dance is forbidden by the local "morality police," the Basij. He attends a secret arts school and becomes an adult more determined than ever.

In 2009, in the midst of the controversial election between reformer Mir-Hossein Mousavi and incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Afshin recruits several fellow college students and forms a secret ballet club. A key member is Elaheh (Freida Pinto), whose mother, a professional dancer from another era, trained her. They decide to put on a performance in the desert for a small audience, but thanks to an informer, the Basij are on their trail.

This serious, heavy movie paints a simplistic, good-and-evil picture of Iran, with characters speaking English and adopting a Western viewpoint. Director Richard Raymond, making his feature debut, doesn't seem to have enough story to fill out a full-length movie. Certain plot threads, such as the Elaheh character's heroin addiction, feel tacked on. Others are dropped, such as the fact that Afshin's best friend Ardi (Tom Cullen) begins as a painter and suddenly switches to dancing with no explanation.

All that's left is the dancing, which can be beautiful, except that Raymond's camera restlessly roams over the performers, as if trying to actually dance rather than capture dance. However, dance movie fans will be swept away by the old, familiar moves.

Best Buy Co, Inc.