Film Review: The Big Shot-Caller

Yet another entry about a lonely person discovering him or herself through dance. Though bittersweet and nicely made, Marlene Rhein’s feature offers nothing new.

It is hard to see how The Big Shot-Caller will catch fire with audiences. From its awkward, ambiguous title to its lack of charismatic performers, this minor drama doesn’t have many commercial prospects.

Certainly Marlene Rhein means well as director, writer and co-star of her film. Beyond that, Rhein even cast her own real-life brother to play the lead—and her character’s brother—in the film. In her story, Jamie (David Rhein) is a single Manhattan accountant who has no one in his life. One night, he meets and falls for Elissa (Laneya Wiles).

After a brief courtship, Elissa suddenly and unexpectedly dumps Jamie. In despair, Jamie’s world turns upside down and he also loses his job and apartment. After moving in with his sister, Lianne (director Rhein), he is encouraged to take up salsa dancing classes. In time, Jamie restores his self-confidence and finds a new reason for being.

Marlene Rhein’s straightforward approach to this low-key tale gives it more of a sense of realism than, say, Strictly Ballroom (1992), which is referenced as Jamie’s favorite childhood movie, but The Big Shot-Caller fails to deliver any scenes or moments of style or wit. Closer, then, to the Japanese Shall We Dance? (1996) or, more to the point, its 2004 American remake, Rhein’s film is much more about the story than the dancing and never comes alive in part because of its dull leading man (the casting might be appropriate but doesn’t help the entertainment value). Saturday Night Fever it is not.

The production is competent, from Paolo Cascio’s intimate photography and lighting to the smart score by Justin Asher.

The Big Shot-Caller won’t offend you, but neither will it make you get up and dance.