03 March 2010

Step Up (2006)

The first in my new running series of dance movie reviews, Step Up was definitely a huge hit, spawning a sequel and grossing $114 million from a budget of twelve million. That's a huge reason there are so many dance movies; they're dirt cheap to make and can rake in the bucks. On with the show.

After a thorough web search through local Target, Circuit City, and Wal-Marts, we were reduced to renting Step Up from Blockbuster. I had to start an account and everything. Time was of the essence because my friend Des, dance critic extraordinaire, was in town and we were settling in for a long weekend of dance movies.

Tagline: "Two dancers. Two worlds. One dream."

1. Plot (6)
About as generic as it gets. Bad boy from the streets trashes the auditorium of a Baltimore school for the arts. After being sentenced to on-site community service, it turns out he can really dance and gets roped into substituting as a partner for the heroine's senior showcase. No surprises anywhere.

2. Can the lead characters dance? (7)
A huge point of contention with me because I don't think Channing Tatum can dance. A lot of people disagree with me here. I'll give Tatum some slack because he's a tall white guy who does have decent rhythm but he's still a weird dancer. Re-watch the opening dance scene, he's totally frenetic and his body is just everywhere and something is just off. He's not a trained dancer (he was a model) obviously but you need to delve into his background to reveal the truth.

His first gig was in Ricky Martin's "She Bangs" video. Did I just watch the entire video and try to pick him out? Yes I did. Unfortunately there's just too many bodies in that video for me to identify anyone. In my defense, I turned the audio off. Aside from that? Tatum's previous dancing experience was as an exotic dancer back home in Tampa, FL. Yes sir, a stripper! That explains so much doesn't it? The reason Tatum got the role was because he's a hunk, not because he was a great dancer. I'll give him a three out of five.

Jenna Dewan has danced with N*Sync, Puff Daddy, Pink, Missy, and was on tour with Janet Jackson during her All For You album and was also in some of the accompanying videos. If you can dance for Janet you can dance for anyone. Plus Des said she has excellent form and technique on all her ballet stuff. Dewan also has incredibly long legs and um, that's not relevant to anything but had to put that out there. Jenna gets a full five stars for her dancing ability.

3. How're the dance scenes? (5)
For a dance movie, Step Up has very few dance scenes. The dance studio is a prominent setting but most of the time you only see people practicing, Tatum trying to get the unfamiliar non-hip hop moves, and people falling or hurting themselves. Most of the dance scenes aren't very long or impressive, aside from the ending bit, which was legitimately quite good.

Best scene? I actually liked it best when they all go to a club and then everyone breaks out into a choreographed group thing, plus a guys versus girls call and response part. Channing has a solo, Jenna gets to break out of her dancing tights, and the line dance bit looks like a tremendous amount of fun. Here's the video.

4. How's the love story? (10)
Considering Jenna is now "Jenna Dewan-Tatum," you could say this is the best romantic pairing in dance movie history. The two leads met on the set of Step Up, started dating, and got married in 2009. In the world of the movie, Jenna and Channing are also a good match, since their chemistry is believable, her soon to be ex-boyfriend is an egotistic dick, and they would definitely fall in love just like in real life.

5. Rate the sidekicks (5)
The "Hey, I got a black friend..." section. Dewan's best friend is an Aaliyah-esque singer and dancer. Tatum's two friends are a pair of brothers from the mean streets. The join him in attending parties, stealing cars, and playing basketball. Yawn. Channing's best friend at the school for the arts is Mario, real life R&B singer, and fictional aspiring music producer.

So it's two white leads surrounded by four black people. I'm surprised there wasn't even a hat tip for a saucy Latino or a wise cracking Asian. The sidekicks are generic and ultimately forgettable. The only higher than average mark goes to Lucy, Dewan's friend, who is understated and not full of hair tossing attitude, which makes her a bit unique in the genre.

6. Best line (3)
Not a strong movie for dialogue. There are no witty remarks, few outright memorable lines, and nothing even particularly unintentionally hilarious. Here's my favorite: The two guys are talking about why Nora, Dewan's character, won't use a contemporary hip hop track for her senior showcase.

Tatum: "Why isn't Nora using this?"
Mario: "Nora's old school, man. I ain't talkin' Sugarhill Gang. I'm talkin' bout Vivaldi old school. For real."
7. Music (6)
Again, nothing memorable. Until the credits roll, when Ciara's "Get Up" plays. That's the best song from the movie. Sean Paul and Keyshia Cole, both with very brief cameos, team up for "Give It Up To Me," which wasn't even in the film as far as I could tell.

Let's talk about Mario. Despite co-starring in the movie, he's nowhere to be found on the soundtrack. So wait, he's been nominated for Grammys, his second album went multi-platinum two years before Step Up released, and his "Let Me Love You" single was the eighth most successful single of the decade (according to Wikipedia). There's gotta be some hidden reason he wasn't on the soundtrack. Spill the beans Mario! For the record, Mario is such a dead ringer for Chris Rock I'm sure they must have used him on "Everybody Hates Chris" at least once.

8. Fashion (5)
Tatum struts around in a variety of baggy long sleeves and wears jeans from what looks like the JC Penney collection. At one point he dances while wearing his janitor jumpsuit. Industrious? Yes. Fashion forward? No. He does the backward cap thing well though, even going so far as to have it on for the final performance. He does a neat backwards flip catch during the routine though, so we'll forgive him.

Dewan's character sports tights, tank tops, and short flowy skirts. She also likes to dance in clunky heels, I'm not sure if that's normal. Her dance studio wardrobe fit her character well, even if there wasn't anything particularly eye catching about any of her outfits. I did learn that she wasn't missing half her sweater though and that there exists an item called the ballet shrug. I also learned that wearing one nowadays would be "So 2003," as Des put it.

Everyone else in the cast dressed like how you'd expect them to dress. Serviceable but completely stereotypical and ordinary.

9. Cultural Impact (8)
For a movie with mediocre acting, a generic script, and only a few flashes of dancing, Step Up has an outsized significance. I think it's because the name is punchy, appropriate, and memorable. If it had been titled "Music High," as originally intended, that would have been terrible right? Of course, Channing Tatum's subsequent fame has helped greatly. The secret weapon to this movie's success may have been in having a good looking white guy head the cast. I mean, before this it was multi-cultural male leads or girls. Check the numbers, none of those movies grossed as much as Set Up. Gigantic profits meant more studios greenlighted dance movies. Win for everyone!

10. Miscellaneous (8)
In a ten minute role, Heavy D appears as the chop shop honcho. People forget how great of a rapper Heavy D was. Listen to how smooth and quick his flow is. Underrated. Heavy lost some weight and transitioned to acting a few years ago, starring in Boston Public and a few other TV gigs. Step Up represents the pinnacle of his movie career. I have to give the movie a few points for that.

Also, director Anne Fletcher got her start as a dancer on The Flintstones movie in 1994 and then went on to dance and choreograph in almost fifty films. Step Up was her first directing effort and she's followed it up with 27 Dresses and The Proposal. In one of the behind-the-scenes bits, Fletcher is praised for being the perfect person to both direct and co-choreograph. I'd have to agree as she seemed quite knowledgeable about dance. A director who knows what she's doing was a big plus.

There are better dance movies out there but somehow Step Up is still a cable staple and brought up in conversation semi-often. While the final score may seem low, I think it reflects how far dance movies have come since then. Rewatching and researching it made me realize that Step Up was the one of the first (recent) crossover dance films and for that it remains a cultural touchstone and don't nobody say different.