Cast: Jorge Burgos VI, Gilbert Saldivar, Kimberli Flores, Jadi Collado
Director: Anthony Nardolillo
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: Two Puerto Rican brothers, Ralphi Matas (Jorge Burgos) and Junior (Gilbert Saldivar), from New York’s Spanish Harlem and the street’s best Salsa dancers, are separated after a tragedy only to reunite years later on opposing sides of gentrification. After 7 years of absence from New York City, Ralphi is back to develop commercial real estate in his old neighborhood. However, upon his return, Ralphi encounters his estranged brother, Junior, who followed in his father’s footsteps, Ramon Matas (David Zayas), and is now an elite salsa dancer and an unwavering activist AGAINST gentrification in the neighborhood. While having to face his past in order to succeed in the present, Ralphi must confront his boss Linda (Alysia Reiner) who is aggressively pursuing the lucrative development deal that brought him back to the city he was born, and thus is driving the wedge even further between him and his brother. On the other side, when Josie (Kimberli Flores), the new owner of their father’s dance studio, reveals she is behind on the mortgage payments. Junior rallies the local dance community to raise funds against all odds to save the dance studio, DESPITE the gentrification efforts of his brother. While the brothers have chosen opposite paths thus far, they are brought back together when Tio Julio (Nelson Gonzales) reminds them of the power of family and the importance of their community. SHINE is a Forgiven Films movie, a division of GVN Releasing. Produced by 13 Paces in association with The Exchange, Sugar Studios LA, and Varona Productions.
A film like Shine comes out every once in a while and they traditionally cater to a specific demographic for their financial success. While I applaud when the film industry makes film like this so that people who do not usually see themselves on-screen can watch a movie they identify with, I am much more concerned with a film’s quality as compared to its diversity and inclusiveness. While the dance numbers are impressive, the film suffers from poor acting and a severely lackluster story that offers nothing new or original and leaves many questions completely unanswered.
The film follows two brothers, Ralphi (Santos) and Junior (Saldivar), who live in Spanish Harlem and are raised to love and perform salsa music at a high level. After a fire kills their father, the two brothers go their separate ways with Ralphi going into the corporate world while Junior stays true to his roots. When their paths cross years later with their neighborhood on the verge of being gentrified and Ralphi’s company being the main party responsible for it, it is up to the two estranged brothers to help save their neighborhood while also keeping Raphi’s job. Starting off with the positives, I felt as though the film did an excellent job of showcasing a culture that many people might be less familiar with in an honest and respectful manner. At most points, I felt as though I was in the film with these characters based predominantly on the atmosphere and setting in which the film took place. The food, music, and dialogue are specific to people with that cultural background and I felt as though I learned about these types of people from the movie in a respectful and appreciative way. Outside of that, all of the dance sequences are quite impressive. I do not know the backgrounds of any of these actors, but all of them showed that they can move with the best of them. I do not watch dance-based movies very often, but when I see a good sequence, I have to take the time appreciate when one of them is exceptional and Shine showcases the talents of these actors in a pretty flawless way. While the dancing might be impressive, this movie is far from perfect. First off, the acting is honestly pretty pathetic. It is very hard to take these actors seriously because the delivery of the lines combined with the facial expressions remove any sort of value from the scenes. The worst part of this is that scenes that are supposed to be heavy and serious had me bursting out laughing. It made me feel bad because these scenes are supposed to be highly emotion but do not come off that way at all. Outside of the poor acting, the story was borderline nonsense with many actions being either completely unexplained or things we have seen in every other movie like this. At no point did I ever care about the issues that these characters were going through and I never felt as though the film had a purpose other than to show us cool dance sequences. There was potential for a good film to come out of this premise, but this was a borderline made for TV movie with just a few moments that elevate it above a bottom-tier movie.
Overall, Shine is a somewhat enjoyable experience that is weighed down by the basic elements that keep a film from being good. There is absolutely an audience for this movie, and while I am not a part of that audience, I appreciated the things that the film did right. Shine was a few casting and story choices away from being a solid film, and in the end all it will be known for are the cool dance sequences and nothing more.
Overall Score: 4/10