“People dance because dance can change things. One move, can bring people together. One move, can make you believe like there’s something more. One move, can set a whole generation free.”
It’s pretty surprising how anyone attempting to be considered a legitimate movie critic can somehow sully all credibility with his quasi-positive review of a dance movie set to 3D. What with 3D now shown as nothing but a cheap gimmick, injected in to a movie series that was nothing but a gimmick in the first place, I can understand why people would detest anything with “Step Up” attached. I mean with a quote you see at the beginning of this article, I can’t blame anyone for being remotely aggressive at the sight of this film or a remotely positive grading. But, as is the requisite, I’m in the minority when I say while “Step Up 3D” is a bad movie, it’s not the worst movie in theaters right now. This year brought without a doubt the worst movie in the last five year as directed by Kevin Smith, and we were force fed a “comedy” spoofing “Twilight.” Beyond that we also had a really awful “Nightmare on Elm Street” remake, Brendan Fraser battling animals, and a large Hawaiian wrestler dressed in a tutu and tights, but somehow people are convinced “Step Up 3D” is a plague on the box office.
I guess dancing can change the world, after all. As I said in my review, like it or not, these movies are moneymakers and within a few years will be placed with dance garbage like “Breakin’,” “Breakin’ 2,” “Krush Groove,” and “Xanadu,” movies that were all panned initially but are now regarded as something of a guilty pleasure like that last slice of pizza you sneak out of the fridge in the middle of the night. You enjoy it on some level, but you go to sleep hating yourself for it, and make an effort of not admitting it to anyone. I remember reviewing “Step Up 2 the Streets” for Film Threat a few years ago and giving it two and a half stars and someone commented on the review declaring “I think our Felix has a secret liking for these movies.” And initially I was offended by that remark muttering to myself “Oh give me a fucking break,” but thinking back… maybe they’re right. And that’s my cross to bear. I will be Felix Vasquez Jr., the movie critic who kind of likes the “Step Up” movies. “You hated the new Predator movie but kind of like the “Step Up” movies?! You don’t know about movies.”
And yes, many people have told me I know nothing about movies after endorsing “Step Up 3D.” I think I’ll survive that painful skewering. And I think deep down the reason why I do like the movies on some conceivable level is because they know what they are and don’t pretend to be anything beyond movies about dancing with shreds of plot sprinkled about just to pad the running time. It’s not like the “Transformers” movies that try to convince us they’re spiritual space epics, or “Meet the Spartans” that anxiously tries to convince us this is the new “Airplane!” No, the studios know that these are just movies about dancing with zero story and they’ve made a transformation by gradually showing that to the target audience and they don’t seem to mind it at all.
“Step Up” was a stupid Romeo and Juliet story set to the love of dance involving overcoming obstacles, class warfare and all that other garbage, “Step Up 2 the Streets” was a dance movie set to a love story with a cameo from Channing “lucky to be working” Tatum, while “Step Up 3D” was dancing! In 3D! Watch people break dance! In 3D! And something else happens, but dancing! In 3D! And I think I respect that these hit movies make no effort in hiding that at all. I still contend “Step Up 3D” is a bad movie, I mean it has a paper thin storyline, and what it does have it’s all so formulaic it’s brainless and sometimes insulting. It’s inoffensive and sugary and makes no effort to challenge the audience. Because fuck, people aren’t going to see a movie about social themes, or the economy, or poverty, no they come for the dancing, they’re there for the dancing, they’re there to watch people bust a move.
This time in 3D! I was recently talking with Jim Law of Joblo who took great issue with the fact that I completely panned “The Boondock Saints” while endorsing “Step Up 3D” in spite of the fact that I made a point of insisting the movie is not good, but the dancing is quite amazing to watch. And I’ll stick by that comment no matter how in to question my credibility comes. “The Boondock Saints,” in spite of being considered a cult classic for some reason, was an insufferable preteen jerk off fantasy about tranny cops, incestuous brothers, necrophilia and the like while “Step Up 3D” likely caught me on the rebound and managed to exceed my rock bottom expectations. It’s about as artificial as butter on popcorn, but it still is tastier than the indie rain of shit that was “The Boondock Saints”! I despised that movie. I don’t know if it was the pseudo-ghetto atmosphere, the quite incredible hip hop soundtrack (I happen to love Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind”), or the fifties musical homage with Adam G. Sevani and Alyson Stoner that likely none of the film’s audience will understand, but the movie entertained me.
Again I stress this movie was not good, nor will I sit down in front of you and argue the merits of it, but the movie kept my attention for about ninety five percent of the time, and that ninety five percent of the time involved the incredible dance sequences that managed to make a brilliant move by enlisting actual noted dancers (most of whom were contestants from “So You Think You Can Dance?”) for these scenes. Main character and hero Moose is played by Adam G. Sevani an apparently trained dancer who appeared in many music videos, and his love interest Alyson Stoner is also a very well respected dancer who appeared in a ton of music videos including Missy Elliot’s which I fondly recall because she manages to pop out of any music video thanks to her charisma and incredible moves. Watch “Gossip Folks” for proof. Stoner and Sevani are only two in an array of shockingly skilled performer enlisted to keep what might be the last installment in a while, afloat and it works.
Aside from Sevani who is given a spotlight as Moose, I can’t really name any of the characters without zooming to IMDB, and trying to remember who is whom, and I can still remember watching “Step Up 3D” and still trying to figure out who among the rival crews in the climactic dance off we were supposed to be rooting for. I remember thinking three times “Wait–who are the Pirates and who are the Samurai’s again?” The pirates of course are the heroes of the picture, while the samurais are the villains, but good on you if you can tell them apart in the final showdown. The moves this movie does make that are quite respectable is that it takes the character of Moose from “Step Up 2” and turns him in to a central character we can root for. In the former film he was more of a geeky comic relief, someone who fumbled, and quirked wise while the hot Briana Evigan and her beau (whose name escapes me) romanced one another. Here he’s the soul of the film (stop laughing and rolling your eyes, please) and acts as a fail safe for every dance competition. After a conveniently placed dance-off on the sidewalks of New York in the first fifteen minutes, Moose is recruited by dance leader Luke to join the mission to win the upcoming dance tournament, and throughout the movie every showdown relies on Moose to burst in at the last minute like a smooth Hulk Hogan, create dramatic tension, and drop some incredible moves that miraculously wins the competition when all hope is lost for the Pirates.
Take for example Moose’s ditching of a big test in school to appear at the showdown with–dance crew number 2, I’ll call them. What I remember about them is that they’re all Asian, and one of the characters stresses they’ve yet to lose a battle at all in their home country. And who can lie when they, like every other group featured, are quite compelling when they perform. Cue Moose who leaves the test, makes it to battle just in time on his bike no less, and… breaks a water main under the ring! Gasp! Water on the dance floor?! A water main in the middle of a dance ring?! Near electronics?! What are they going to do now?! All hope is lost! But luckily if you remember “Step Up 2” (and I know you do!), Moose teamed with his former crew to win a dance competition on a well lit parking lot in the middle of a rain storm! Moose is prepared! So Moose shows off his water dance to the tune of “Beggin'” from Madcon. As the floor floods with water, Moose shockingly begins to improvise this water dance that splashes at the screen (Ooh!) never missing a beat or breaking stride, and his team follows suit as the men take off their shirts (cue drooling from the women), the girls are in wet t-shirts (sufficient sexuality for the teen boys), and Moose pulls off quite an incredible win for the team. The entire time three things popped in to my head:
1. Leader Luke is not that good a dancer, why is he even leading this team?
2. Why isn’t Moose the main character in this whole affair?
3. Goddamn that water dance was fan-freaking-tastic!
And it is because John Chu who directed this installment, “Step Up 2 the Streets” and an upcoming Justin Beiber Project (keep digging that grave for your credibility, Felix) knows how to conduct well paced and often times dynamic dance sequences. And there’s no plot! And there are no complex characters because–trite as this may sound–the characters are expressive through their dancing.
And the creators don’t even try for a genuine film score, as the entire emptiness not taken up by dialogue is comprised of in vogue hip hop and dance music. But the characterization is done through the dancing. For example when we first see the Samurai’s, the top secret dance team that are rivals to The Pirates, they take on a step team that manages to create something of a really good dance routine using dirt and dust they kick up (and toward the screen, obviously), but just as all hope is lost the announcer calls to attention their key antagonist Julien. The team splits, the crowd roars and we’re given Jason Slaughter’s utterly amazing robot dance that is so sharp it rivals Michael Jackson’s own. Obviously through this we’re shown that there’s a good chance the Pirates don’t stand a single chance, while Slaughter shows off how he can really dominate the screen with a tired dance move he manages to re-invent with flair. Slaughter’s spotlight in the movie is fierce and he plays a key antagonist who constantly battles with the Pirates, for some reason wants their dance club for himself, and has a surprise connection with Briana Evigan doppleganger Sharni Vinson.
And it just gets better from there with the performances. There’s even one moment where a gorgeous female Samurai dancer steps in to the ring and begins this oddly hypnotic hand dance for the camera that goes on for at least three minutes and… I was captivated. It doesn’t make it something of substance, but Chu makes a good argument for keeping out attention the entire time. Along the way, mystifying protagonist Natalie is revealed to have a “surprise” connection to villain Julien, the club is locked up tight by the landlord, and the team disbands ruining all hope for beating the Samurais at the upcoming competition that can help them pay for the club. Moose is of course disillusioned especially considering his relationship with his best friend as played by Alyson Stoner, is faltering. They confront one another and Moose comes to the realization that he can’t give up after she helps him realize he’s not a quitter.
Guess how she does this. By dancing! Of course! Dancing can solve all of our problems. And this problem is solved by a wonderfully choreographed if anachronistic homage to classic musicals where the duo attempt to channel Fred and Ginger by dancing to a rag time tune conveniently playing on an ice cream truck. With the implementing of garbage can lids, moving men, and brooms, the two stride along the neighborhood dancing in tune, and this helps Moose figure out that he can’t give up. So along the way Moose grabs leader Luke and they decide to re-group and take on the Samurai’s once and for all, but they’re short a few men. Conveniently Moose meets old friend Jenny Kido selling toys at a street side vendor on the streets of New York.
Remember Kido? I don’t either, but the movie makes a point of reminding us that she was in “Step Up 2” with the character as played by the attractive Mari Koda. Why is she in New York? Who knows, but she comes in just the right time as Moose is influenced by her to regroup and bring together the strayed team members. Moose and Kido grab their former teammates from “Step Up 2” (apparently paying for their plane tickets to New York) and brings them along to form the final dance routine for the massive dance tournament! It’s like “Seven Samurai” all over again, isn’t it? Kido, Moose, Luke, and a bunch of rather forgettable teammates get together one more time to confront the Samurais as Natalie is forced to watch helplessly and try to win back the heart of Luke. Frankly through most of this I zoned out and really wanted to know what the next performance would entail.
By the time the “World Jam” competition comes along, director Chu doesn’t even try to hide the fact that there’s nothing going on beside the final confrontation between the Pirates and the House of Samurai. While we see brief glimpses of mini-battles ensuing, we’re told the tournament happened off-screen and the two big competitors have assembled to which we’re immediately brought in to the final showdown between the two teams as tension boils between them and Natalie who is leaving the city and begging Luke to go along with her. Do you think he will? Dancing… hot girl… dancing… hot girl. I think the decision is obvious. I remember chuckling a bit at the blatant dodging of any set-up or preamble to The Big Jam in the finale, because they know as much as we do that we want to see these two crews duke it out on the dance floor and show us what the directors have in store for the 3D format for its paying audience.
And who can blame them, really? The whole point of “Step Up 3D” is to see this final performance, this… plethora of 3D wizardry, this magical mystery tour has led to this wonderful little showdown between the Pirates and the Samurais that will make it clear to the audience that their money was well spent. The final dance scene in “Step Up 3D” involves conveniently placed colorful lights on jackets, mini-Pirates who take center stage at one moment and the Pirates showing up leader Julien by performing the exact same robotic technique he did in the previous dance sequence, and it stands as one of the most incredible dance sequences I’ve seen in a long time.
With top notch choreography matched with ace direction and sharp editing, John Chu stages the piece de resistance of the “Step Up” series enlisting strobing lights that bounce along the jacket as the Pirates, shrouded in darkness, take great pains in staging the ultimate in dance tricks to show up the eternally unbeatable Samurai. Truly it’s one of the most visually impressive climaxes I’ve seen all year, and it’s the best moment in the whole series since that raucous rain sequence in “Step Up 2.” Finishing the thoughts for every single person in the audience with common sense, leader Luke takes his stupid documentary he makes throughout the movie, leaves the city with Natalie hopefully for a night of well choreographed and well lit fellatio, and hands the reins over to Moose who armed with his young girlfriend Stoner, leads the Pirates in to a new era of popping, locking, and clichés. Luke is gone, but no one cares, we just saw people dancing in water and it was well worth the time.
These movies are nothing but cheap and easy gimmicks and extended music videos created to pander to the urban crowd, while also taking every chance to not offend anyone with its broad simplistic themes, and diverse cast. It’s nothing but an artificial, pre-packaged, and often times vanilla franchise. And they will live on for years. These movies will be considered guilty pleasures and eventual cult classics because they’re just as dumb and brainless and cheesy as the break dancing movies from the eighties, except they have better looking characters and much better direction, and I will forever be the guy who kind of liked “Step Up 2 the Streets” and “Step Up 3D” and probably “Step Up 4 the World,” and likely “Step Up 5: Rhythm and Jive,” and the eventual straight to DVD franchise starring one of Beyonce’s homely little sisters we prefer not to see in front of the camera or in natural sun light. And I’m fine with that. Because we all love to get up in the middle of the night and sneak in a guilty pleasure, even if we’ll never openly admit it to anyone the next day. I make no apologies about endorsing “Step Up 3D” because it’s so bad it’s good, and there are much worse movies out there taking our money and lying to us. That’s my final word, like it or lump it… yo.