15 August 2010

Step Up 3 (2010)

Here's another in my dance movie review series. You are so excited, I can tell.

The most anticipated movie of the summer for me? No lie, Step Up 3D. Okay maybe I was equally ready for Despicable Me but to be honest, I could have told you what Step Up 3D's release date was from the time it was announced. Why all the excitement? Because Step Up 2 director Jon M Chu was making his next dance movie. Nevermind that he's got the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers going on and it's probably a bigger game changer than any 3D dance movie will be, but I wanted to know what Chu's vision would be.

What I realized while watching Step Up 3 -- not in 3D sadly, because it was too expensive and I'll have to hop it with another 3D movie another time (and then steal some glasses for keeps) -- was that movie reviewers have it rough. Imagine having to take notes the entire time while experiencing a movie during a first screening. I was trying to make mental notes because I didn't want to breech movie protocol by using my iPhone. That didn't work. I forgot everything I wanted to jot down. So I'm just going to review it without a rewatch and possibly revisit the cinematic event of the summer at a later date.

By the way, for my birthday I'd to get one of those movie pens. And some more storage and RAM for my brain. Thanks.

Tagline: "Take the biggest step of all in 3D"

1. Plot (7)
Critics are saying the plot of Step Up 3 is tired and cliched. They are wrong. The way to look at Step Up 3 is through the lens of Chu's work with LXD. On those webisodes, he's connecting the worlds of dance and comic books. Step Up 3 works along the same lines and is vastly more enjoyable if you draw those parallels. Basically Step Up 3 is the story of a reluctant teenage hero recruited by Professor X. It's not about people who are good dancers, but dancers as superheroes. I love it.

While I'll admit there's nothing surprising in the setup for Step Up 3, there is at least one or two twists along the way. Okay, one. But in comparison with previous dance narratives, that's a big step...um, forward. My biggest quibble with the script is that the crew Moose is adopted into is tragically named "The Pirates." And the evil dancers are known as "The Ninjas." I think we could do with some better dance crew names. Pirates versus Ninjas? What is this, the third grade?

Edit: As my fellow movie goer pointed out, "not ninjas...samurai's!!!!!!!!!! right?" And she's right. The bad guys were the samurai. Still, it's a bad name.

2. Can the lead characters dance? (8)
Casting for a dance movie lead can't be easy. They have to be nice to look at, decent at dancing, and passable at acting. And I guess they have to be white. For some reason, the new lead here only qualifies for the latter. I don't want to bash on Rick Malambri here but he is a terrible actor, he barely has any dance scenes (so I'm assuming he can't dance), and he's kind of good looking until you realize he's a poor man's Eric Dane. As my movie partner said, "He's only in this movie for that one shot of his abs." Which is about right. Joe Slaughter, who plays the antagonist, should have been the lead. He kind of looks like an asshole though so maybe that's why he played Magneto. He could dance though and was a lot more compelling than McSteamy-lite.

The female lead, Sharni Vinson, suffers from basically the same problem. She's a poor woman's Briana Evigan. At a glance you would think that her character had returned from Step Up 2 since they look so much alike. Vinson can dance though, I'll give her that, but Malambri and Vinson together aren't exactly chemistry central. Here's an article and videos with all three Step Up female leads. Vinson is British apparently, so I'm impressed with her accent work.

And the other lead, Adam G. Sevani, returns as Moose. We know Sevani can dance as he showed us in Step Up 2 (and the Miley/Mandy battles). However, he's definitely not the amazing dancer the movie makes him out to be. Which isn't a huge deal but you can tell that he's ducked away during most of the real dancing scenes. Sevani is decent at his particular dance style but he's not super versatile. However, he is charismatic and his floppy curly hair is fun. High points for bringing Sevani back.

3. How're the dance scenes? (10)
Jon M Chu is the master of the dance camera by now right? Between doing LXD, the online battles, and both Step Ups, he's leading the they way for all directors in this genre. Plus he's a super nice guy and I kind of fan boyed him at the Glee party a few months ago. Needless to say, the dance scenes in Step Up 3 are great. There's a ton of different styles, a few wow scenes, and great practice montages. There's a throwback Fred Astair sort of scene that comes out of nowhere but it's charming enough. Chu uses sound effects to their max, giving us whooshes and thumps to reinforce the superhero connection as each move gets displayed.

The dancing here is better than, or at least equal to, You Got Served's. And it might take the crown for sheer volume. Then again, You Got Served had some killer dance bits and more natural energy in the battle scenes so maybe they should be equal. Madd Chadd's scenes are all amazing and even though I've seen him a lot before, his stuff in Step Up 3 blew me away. I've included it in the links below:

The best dance scene in the movie? Definitely the end, where the dancing itself isn't the best necessarily, but the presentation is crazy cool off the charts. You'll see what I mean.

4. How's the love story? (2)
Limp, predictable, unappealing. And that goes for all the romantic pairings in the movie.

5. Rate the sidekicks (8)
The clear winner in terms of sidekicks, if only for Martin Lombard and Facundo Lombard as the Santago Twins. They are from Argentina and are hilarious, infectious, and can dance. Check them out on YouTube. Watching identical twins dance in synchronization? Awesome.

Other than that there's the usual multi-ethnic cast thrown around our two white leads. There's also a murderer's row of people the astute dance show fan will recognize, like Twitch from SYTYCD and of course Harry Shum, Jr. I wish Chu would have broken with "tradition" here but hey, he can't do everything at once. Maybe Step Up 4 can have a non-white lead. Oh dare to dream!

6. Best line (2)
There weren't many good lines in this one. Afterward I racked my brain to think of something that really stood out but couldn't recall any. My friend couldn't either. Both of us swear there was one great line but since we forgot it, it couldn't have been that amazing. I have to give this section a low score until I can watch it again.

7. Music (8)
At this point, "Beggin" is in every dance movie (recently in that other 3D dance movie) and just about tired. Then again, it's such a great song that I find it hard to fault. It's like in the late 90s when every dance crew had to use Outkast's "Rosa Parks" in their routine. You'd see it three times in every show. Sure you almost got sick of it but the song was just too damn good.

Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind" makes an appearance of course since the movie is set in Manhattan. It's another one of those "ubiquitous so you should be tired of it but it's so great you just listen to it anyway" songs. Bill Simmons has a theory that Jay-Z knew the song would bring in crazy royalties and licenses and cunningly created the New York anthem. Good one Jigga.

I downloaded Step Up 3's soundtrack immediately after watching the movie but have so far been minorly disappointed. The song credits at the end of the movie listed 40+ promising tracks but it seems like most of the fifteen that made it on the soundtrack are the ones that aren't good as standalone experiences.

It was exciting to see Chromeo's "Fancy Footwork" but nothing else really stood out to me. The big hit is probably Flo Rida's "Club Can't Handle Me," which is catchy after repeated listens. I think it's the same song as Jay Sean's "Down" but maybe I'm just ignorant to today's hip hop scene. I'd be quite interested in downloading all 40+ tracks from the movie because I'm pretty sure there are a few gems that weren't included on the soundtrack. Still, in the context of the movie, the music was solid all around.

8. Fashion (8)
Remember just four years ago when I said the original Step Up had lackluster costumes? It was probably due to the small budget but the earlier dance movies translated "street fashion" into generic baggy sweaters, jeans, hoodies, and flipped caps. Forget all that. Dance movies have real budgets now and there's been an uptick in outlandish outfits. Watching a dance movie is suddenly as much about pointing out the ridiculous/awesome clothing as it is about the moves.

Step Up 3 has pretty good fashion sense except for the last dance scene when the bad guys come out in hilarious big shouldery outfits. These purple and black monstrosities look decent when everyone is dancing but they are more appropriate for Comic Con than a dance battle. If a real dance crew performed in these outfits they'd be laughed off the stage.

Extra points for the emphasis on sneakers. The semi-secret pirate's den has an entire wall dedicated to expensive sneakers that each member of the crew has to earn. It's such an obvious connection that you'd swear sneaker fetish and dance movies had already been featured together. Nope. And that's the genius of Jon M Chu, he connects all the obvious dots.

9. Cultural Impact (6)
The first Step Up was made on a twelve million dollar budget and banked over seventy. Step Up 2 opened with almost twenty million, placing number three for their opening weekend. After opening just over a week ago, Step Up 3D has already made back their production budget of thirty million and will likely be the highest grossing film of the trilogy. That number was probably helped by the surcharge on 3D tickets.

While Step Up 3 wasn't the first 3D dance movie, it is so far the best. Here's a short NPR article that talks about how 3D could potentially be a game change for dance movies. Again, I've yet to see the movie with limbs poking into my face but I bet it's pretty cool. I guess I'll give it slightly lower marks for not being the first 3D dance movie.

By the way, if you haven't been watching LXD, you should check it out. Mashable had an article about "Why Hulu's New Dance Show is a Game Changer." If I could rate LXD's cultural impact, I'd give it a full ten points. At some point I need to review the LXD series so far, but I haven't actually seen them all yet.

10. Miscellaneous (8)
After viewing the Step Up 3 Dance Featurette, this is what I need to say. "Hey Adam Shankman, you are too old to be wearing a fat gold chain and a Run DMC T-shirt." The only explanation is that he was dancing in the background and hopped into a chair for the interview. Still, as a producer of the movie, maybe he should've removed the chain before he got on-camera. You look silly man.

We'll give Adam some leeway though since he's a judge on SYTYCD and he's choreographed for Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul. Plus, as Wikipedia tells us, "he is Brendan Frasier's exclusive choreographer." I have no idea what that means or when Brendan Frasier danced in a movie. And I'm too afraid to Google it.

I also want to point out Chu's really fantastic use of lights in the film. He really carries out a theme and stages some of the plot and dance scenes around the use of lights. It's a small detail but I fully noticed and appreciated it. And let's not overlook the angles he takes with his camera, which is something I think he really got good at with this video. Dance never looked so good.

A little thing that struck a sour chord with me was how Asians were portrayed in the film. With a lot of Asian dancers and people in the background, not to mention an Asian American director, there was one scene that seemed a bit over the top to me. The Pirates battle a crew from Japan but for some reason the set and the crowd struck me as a bit too Oriental, if you know what I mean. All the insert shots of people side betting seemed like they were inspired by Bloodsport and featured stereotypical old Asian men. I'll give it a pass for now though.

Something is clearly wrong with my rating system. Step Up 3 only got five points higher than the original Step Up despite being five times the movie. Part of that can be attributed to the absolute dud Step Up 3 pulled in the love department. Still, don't let that 68 score fool you. Step Up 3 was awesome and a contender for the best hip hoppy dance movie. The plot and non-dancing sections move fast and don't drag like You Got Served, and the dance scenes are frequent and worth getting excited about. Let me say clearly: Step Up 3 is a must see for dance movie fans, a must see!

My only wish is that dance movie premiers could be held at a place that's less physically restrictive than the movie theater. How are you supposed to get up and dance when people are sitting all around you? Don't be afraid to go to that weekday matinee showing of Step Up 3 and bounce around to the dancing parts. That's what I'm gonna do when I rewatch it. Who's with me?