Sunday, July 29, 2012

Dance Dance Revolution: STEP UP REVOLUTION

Like the Final Destination and the Fast and the Furious movies, the Step Ups have a concept that’s simple and adaptable enough that it’s become a dependable series that can move to an entirely new location with new characters and still retain audience affection. The first Step Up took place in a dance academy; Step Up 2 the Streets took dance battles outside. Those movies had small, somewhat forgettable, charms and, despite some athletic choreography and good intentions, it wasn’t until Step Up 3D that the series truly became something special. Director Jon Chu made great use of 3D in staging energetic dance numbers that served a cornball dance competition plot so engagingly good-natured that it was hard to resist.

Now here we are with Step Up Revolution, which isn’t up there with the best of the series, but is amiable enough, I suppose. It moves the action to Miami where we start in medias res with a gang of ambitious, young, talented dancers who express themselves through splashy flash mobs and call themselves, unsurprisingly, The Mob. The group is made up of characters new to the series, aside from Twitch, who turned up in the last one, but you get the idea. They want to win a YouTube contest – first one to a certain number of views wins a hundred grand! – but along the way they decide to make their dances more activist in nature. The kids’ vibrant, low-income neighborhood is being targeted for “beautification” by a big-time developer (Peter Gallagher, always welcome). They think their surprise public performances will be enough to change his mind, or at least change the city’s agreement.

As if the let’s-put-on-a-show and big-bad-real-estate-mogul plotlines weren’t enough, the suit’s daughter (Kathryn McCormick), a student at the local dance academy, has fallen in love with a waiter (Ryan Guzman), who happens to work at her father’s Miami hotel. He also happens to be co-founder of The Mob. It’s nice when all the tropes can dovetail so nicely, isn’t it? The leads settle into the by now standard Step Up romance of the hunk and the babe from different worlds who love dance almost as much as they love each other. Part of the reason why Step Up 3D works so well is the way it added a parallel, and far more believable, romance between two appealingly dorky, but no less talented, dancers. Revolution’s predictable script by Amanda Brody keeps things moving along efficiently by having characters flat out state what they’re feeling at any given moment, which is just as well, since the romantic leads are best at delivering exposition and dramatic revelations with the same slightly unconvincing blankness that passes for emoting in this movie.

But even though it could be (should be, maybe), this movie is not really about the story and the filmmakers know it. It’s about the dancing, which is lively and most definitely the product of very talented dancers who clearly worked long and hard to achieve such physicality and fluidity. It’s a shame that first-time feature director Scott Speer, handed such nice choreography capably shot by director of photography Crash (yeah, just “Crash”) so often seems content to chop it up, dashing from one angle to the next without sufficient space to fully appreciate the rhythmic athleticism on display. Even the best uses of 3D, like a great moment that looks head on as dancers bungee jump off of shipping containers, is marred somewhat by Speer’s need to cut away from time to time when one long dizzying shot would do. That the dancing ends up functionally enjoyable is a factor of the performers’ skills, not the director’s.

Still, for all of Revolution’s exhausted clichés and awkward editing, it’s not an altogether unenjoyable movie. It passes the time well enough. The movie’s slickly corny without getting too earnest, sexy without getting sexual, and up-tempo, even when things get, like, heavy, man. The social and class-conscious story has some nice resonances (even though the last few moments of the movie are essentially the thematic equivalent of “eh, whatever”) and the music picks up a nice salsa flavor from the fresh Miami setting. The acting’s not the best, but the performers are good looking and are great dancers. And for all the tired dance movie plotting, the climactic moments, improbable as they are, sort of had me going. It’s nice when one of the best characters from Step Up 3D steps in for a welcome cameo, but when The Mob comes together and pulls off a big statement dance that, well, I guess it’s a spoiler. But if you can’t see what’s coming next then you just haven’t seen enough dance movies. 

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