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Step Up: Revolution

July 30, 2012
Step Up: Revolution

It may be surprising, but I actually was not dreading having to watch Step Up: Revolution. Yes, the writing and acting were bound to be less than amazing, but like all the Step Up movies this is really a thin wrapper around a dance showcase. And as far as the dancing goes it’s pretty successful, so it achieves everything it promises.

The story is straight out of an ’80s movie, and the familiar conventions probably helped it go down easier; it’s more hackneyed than flat-out bad. Specifically, I mean the kind of ’80s movie with the earnest, photogenic young guy leads a moderately diverse, rag-tag group of fellow young social underdogs to artistic success and victory over the mean rich folk while both saving the orphanage or community center or whatever and winning the love of the pretty girl. It’s not that this story is guaranteed to be done badly — The Goonies proved that it can actually be quite compelling — but it’s such a cookie-cutter template that it doesn’t require any real thought on the part of the writer.

The earnest young guy here is Sean (Ryan Guzman), who with his friend Eddy (Misha Gabriel Hamilton) leads The Mob, a group of flash-mobbing hip-hop and dubstep dancers in Miami. And yes, they’re based on the wrong side of the tracks or, in this case, the river. Sean and Eddie work as waiters at the Dimant hotel in South Beach, under the thumb of the douchebag general manager. The hotel is owned by the powerful William Anderson (Peter Gallagher), who wants his daughter, Emily (Kathryn McCormick) to help him and give up her dreams of joining a renowned professional dance company.

Of course Emily and Sean meet up just in time to find out that Anderson wants to plow under the neighborhood where the Mob all live in order to redevelop it as another luxury hotel. Emily hides her identity from the group — setting up a later conflict — and helps them turn their performance art into a protest movement.

The story is thin gruel at best, and none of the performances are particularly good. But again, we’re here for the dancing, and the dancing is pretty great. And it’s not all street or party dancing either, like almost all of Footloose is; the art gallery sequence alone is a fantastic and stunning achievement in contemporary dance.

And yet I find myself wondering, why do we need a story at all? An action movie needs some through-line between the explosions — we can’t care about something blowing up unless we know why it’s blowing up — but a good dance can tell its own story, or stand on its own with no story at all. Indeed, for the first half of the movie the dances have nothing at all to do with the story anyway. Might it be possible to throw together a sequence of spectacularly choreographed and filmed dance routines and just let them speak for themselves?

Be that as it may, the story isn’t the biggest drag on the movie; that would be the stereography. The 3D effect is only occasionally of use to the dancing, and the rest of the time it makes sunny Miami look muddy and dark. Worse, a lot of the detailed moves go too quickly for the effect to keep up with, and we’re left with distracting trails of phantom images. A dancer does a backflip with eight hazily flickering legs instead of two smoothly gliding ones and the moment is lost.

But if you go to a 2D showing you’re in for some impressive visuals that even a hokey script can’t ruin. And hey, if you remember the ’80s as fondly as I do even the script has a certain retro charm.

Worth It: yeah.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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