8/06/2010

Step Up 3


Stop me if you've heard this. A dance crew made up of poor outcasts must win a dance battle to earn enough money to save their collective butts. Or tell me if you've heard this one: rich girl who happens to be a badass dancer hooks up with a rugged dancer dude from the wrong side of the tracks. The writers of Breakin' and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo are filing copyright infringement lawsuits as we speak. But you know what? They'd lose that battle, because even though the script is butter soft, we've never seen this well worn story played out with this much energy and flair.

From the word "Go", Step Up does exactly what a movie of this sort needs not to do, and that's try to be more important than it really is by introducing us to some of the bland supporting cast via video footage of them explaining their oh so deep reasons for dancing. Then without giving us a second to ponder their intricate thoughts(there's nothing to ponder), the story jumps straight to Moose(Adam Sevani), one of the few returning characters from the last film. Seconds after stepping onto the campus of NYU for his first day, and having his Dad claiming pride at his son's ditching of all that dancing crap, Moose is already dancing circles around cops. With the aid another dancer, Luke Katcher(Rick Malambri), who's name sounds like a B-level porno actor's, he escapes and is welcomed into the Pirates dance crew. You might think with a leader named Luke Katcher, living in a house that looks like the hideout of the Foot Clan from the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, Moose might be a little suspicious. Nope. No time for logic. Dancing is all that matters.

I've been to my share of dance competitions and known some dancers in my day, but it was never quite like this. You know how in Fight Club there was this whole secret culture of dudes who liked to beat the tar out of each other? In the world of Step Up, every single person you encounter can spin on their head. And they challenge you to do it too, in the oddest of places. A bathroom stall? Heck, that's the perfect spot for a dance off! They kidding? You think Kid 'n Play can do a kick step in the men's room? 

Luke takes Moose under his wing and introduces him to the rest of the Butt Pirates. They're down on their luck, struggling to earn enough to keep their house. They never quite say how since nobody seems to have a job or two nickels to rub together. That's ok, because Luke is their visionary leader. Not only is he light on his feet, but he's a filmmaker to boot. He's displayed his marvelous skill behind the camera by...shooting his friends talking about dancing. Exhilarating stuff. He's also got a touch of stalker in him, because he's been secretly filming Natalie(Sharni Vinson) every night at their club. He thinks she's BFAB, and asks her to join the crew. She readily accepts, but her motives and past are mysterious. By the way, there'll be no spoiling of the term "BFAB". You need to taste that slice of moldy cheesecake the same way I did. You'll be joking about it with your friends for weeks.

With Natalie and Moose in place, the Pirates are poised to win the ever elusive World Jam and save themselves from a life on the streets. Of course some superficial stuff gets in the way, including Moose's curious relationship with best friend Camille(the returning Alyson Stoner). They got one of those "best friends who should be lovers but wont' accept it" deals goin' on. You've seen it before. Don't give it a second thought. Nor should you Slurpee™ lovers ever down the tasty drink while standing over a ventilation shaft, because it'll all just float away and you'll have wasted $1.89 of hard earned money. It's a cornball scene that puts the 3-D to effective use, even if it's downright stupid.

It's easy to dismiss the god awful acting and cliched script by Amy Andelson and Emily Meyer. Step Up is clearly at its best when the characters shut the heck up and start movin'. The dance numbers here are to put it simply: Amazing. If I could sit and just watch all the hyperstylized routines all in a row I wouldn't need my morning coffee for two weeks. Director John Chu,  who also was behind the camera for Step Up 2, made a very clear decision to break through the limits of any dance film we've seen before. Each set is truly unique, and with the added addition of 3-D they come off at a blistering pace that is sometimes dizzying but always electrifying. The final routine, a nearly 10 minute long battle featuring ever shifting laser lights is truly remarkable. An earlier battle with a totally waterlogged dance surface is nearly as good.

It's not all craziness, however, as even the choreographed homages to earlier films pay off as well. Arguably the most effective, charming scene in the entire movie has Moose and Camille in a modernized nod to Singin' in the Rain. If you want to be truly blown away by how spectacular stuff like this and some of the other numbers are, realize that a lot of them are done in one single shot. That's no trick of the camera, folks.

By comparison, Step Up 3-D has far less story than either of the first two movies. The central female character is a blank slate. There's no real growth for her, at least not one that's in any way believable. In terms of plot, Step Ups 1 & 2 have this one beat. But ask me which movie I'd be more likely to sit down and watch again, and the answer is clear. I could watch these dance numbers in a straight loop for hours and not get sick of it. It's too bad that they couldn't find a way to put just a teensy bit more effort into everything else. And that sadly makes this 50% of a quality movie, but one that might be worth doing a couple of backflips over.

Check out part of the water dance battle for yourself! Kinda Michael Jackson-ish, ain't it?