Janet Jackson's ambitious new "telemusical," possessively titled "Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814," is much like the upcoming album of the same name--pretentious but fun. What little script there is in this half-hour "message" film is deadly, but plenty of fancy footwork saves the day. (The expensive project premieres on MTV at 6:30 tonight and airs again on Sunday and Wednesday, never to be seen again till its Oct. 17 home video release).
The can-humans-really-do-that? choreography in the three dance numbers is on a par with, and may even top, the best of brother Michael's hoof-happy videos. "Miss You Much" is full of joy and giddy goofiness, and establishes shyly grinning Janet--a real team player in this big production number--as winsome and human after some of her earlier ice-goddess poses. "The Knowledge" and "Rhythm Nation" are angrier performances; the former is a bravura solo rooftop dance, with Jackson breaking windows and knocking over objects in rage at the dying of the light.
What connects these numbers is an anti-drug story, unfortunately bolstered by the glitziness-among-the-L.A.-ruins imagery of "Blade Runner." Director Dominic Sena's slick penchant for neato futuristic grime hardly contributes any saving realism to the drug saga.
Jackson intones some silly narration and spoken-word slogans in a voice that renders her well-intentioned sincerity somewhat campy. When it comes to pretentiousness, Janet, just say no! But the big-bass songs and the dazzling dancing say what the hokey script can't. Her feet, her body, her grace and her lightning speed are fine arguments for sobriety indeed.