03 August 2012

Step Up Revolution (2012)

A highly anticipated viewing of the new Step Up has led to this, another in my continuing series of dance movie reviews. Yes I went right away to the theater to see Step Up Revolution so you wouldn't have to. Okay I know you're gonna watch it anyway. Spoilers ahead, as per usual.

Tagline: "One step can change your world."

1. Plot (4)
Emily is the daughter of a wealthy businessman who... Ah whatevers. Emily is a rich kid trying to get into a contemporary dance company, Sean is a street guy who leads an underground dance crew. There's a lot of mumbo jumbo about not losing what's yours, fighting against the rules, and backstabbing daddy. Everything here is rehashed, some of them straight from previous installments of Step Ups -- not to mention a nod to Rent. If anything, there's too much plot in Step Up Revolution and none of the threads stick for even one second. We'll give some points for the switch of locale to Miami, which provides a much more picturesque backdrop after Baltimore and New York.

2. Can the lead characters dance? (9)
Considering Kathryn McCormick finished third in her season of SYTYCD and came back for the All Star session, she's at least above average. Of course, her first dance scene almost kills everything because she's pretty terrible. The initial move she does to impress Sean is lackluster and groan worthy. Of course, this was probably scripted because Sean immediately comments on how bad it was. McCormick's strength is definitely the contemporary dance numbers but she didn't stand out much matched against Jenna Dewan, Briana Evigan, and Sharni Vinson. In fact I'm pretty sure she didn't do any hip hop type numbers in the movie now that I think about it. I was more impressed with McCormick's abilities after watching her old SYTYCD clips: cha cha / solo and contemporary to Michael Buble.

As for Ryan Guzman, he's probably the best male lead dancer of the entire series. Strong statement, I know. My movie mate and I thought it was possible he'd been genetically engineered for this role. As it turns out, Guzman was a mixed martial arts fighter and a model with no previous dancing experience. He acquits himself well and he's not only the best dancer of the series, he's also arguably the best looking. He looks like a white Ricky Martin. Oh wait, Guzman is Mexican-American, but as he says in this interview, "I always heard I look white…[but] I want to help out my culture and progress. I definitely want to try to reach out and do as much as I possibly can." Go minority casting! Sort of. (Sidenote: When are we gonna get a non-white lead for Step Up? Never probably. Do we start a petition for this or just move on to something else?)

Also, McCormick looks like a dancing Winnie Cooper. Or a grown up Alyson Stoner, who played Camille, Channing Tatum's younger sister in Step Up and Moose's girlfriend in Step Up 3. Seriously look at them and tell me you wouldn't have been confused.

3. How're the dance scenes? (8)
While there were lots of dance scenes, only a few of them stuck out. The strong opening with The Mob shutting down Ocean Boulevard and dancing on top of low riders was cool (not to mention perhaps dangerous). Crashing an art show and using wonderful body paint and lights was something I'd like to see in real life. The ending with a bajillion dancers everywhere, some strategically placed trampolines and bungee cords, had a few "oooh" moments but overall the dance stuff lacked pizzazz. Throw in some practice scenes, a few romantic duets, a dash of Emily trying out for the dance company, a ho hum office dance, and that was about it.

One thing I'd say though, is that long gone are the days of Step Up dance montages in front of dull backgrounds. This fourth version staged every dance beautifully and it was all, dare I say it, very artistic. However, sometimes all that nice framing and cleanliness took away from the energy of the dances.

It felt like this movie needed one or two more killer dances to push it over the top. Of course, at this point in the series all the dancers are good and the choreography is clean but we've mostly seen it all before. Throw in some house dancing or something. Get Fanny Pak on the line.

4. How's the love story? (2)
Bleh. Guzman and McCormick had a meet cute scene -- where they engage in a mini-dance off at a beach party and throw sand at the 3D screen -- but aside from the initial spark, there was hardly any chemistry. There were some attempts to give them more of a connection but it didn't really work. I could be generous and say that Emily and Sean inspired each other to greater heights or saved each other from disaster but let's not kid ourselves. They were just empty vessels for an empty relationship. Throw in a very weakly motivated plot point splitting them up and then the inevitable reconciliation and we have something to double yawn at.

5. Rate the sidekicks (2)
For the first time I can recall in a trashy dance movie, there was no attempt to distinguish the secondary characters at all. Sure Sean's got a surly best friend -- the actor is a dead ringer for Josh Hutcherson -- and a crew that gets the freeze frame, color splash, ID treatment, but none of it matters. There's no charismatic or wisecracking sidekick for either lead, and nothing on par with the delightful twins from the last installment. Maybe it's not a bad choice to avoid shoehorning in sidekicks but we look for standout personalities in this advanced scoring system. Step Up Revolution fails big time here.

Twitch does return from Step Up 3 but he's hardly recognizable without his silly glasses. The only semi-memorable character here was a street artist that had ridiculous hair/tattoos and an unwillingness to talk ("Pictures are worth a thousand words, get it?"). I'm awarding two points here for short cameos by Madd Chadd and Moose but other than that there was nobody to get excited about. I mean, does Peter Gallagher as Emily's father count as a sidekick? Nah.

Oh wait, let's talk about Mia Michaels, who played the head of the dance troupe. I'm generally a fan of hers so I don't want to get too harsh here but damn, Mia was channeling some Ursula from Little Mermaid shit. In one scene Mia's lurking behind Emily and she looks like she's about to steal her voice -- or eat her.

6. Best line (1)
Worst lines ever from a Step Up movie. And that's saying something. Forget just having an absence of good/bad lines, the dialogue here almost took away from the film. First time screenwriter Amanda Brody tripped over the low bar here. The very low bar. I wanted to give this category a zero but since it wasn't a silent film, I'll give it one point out of pity.

If I had to pick a semi-quotable line, it was maybe "Don't you know how this works? I hold a drink in my hand, you dance around me, make me look good." And that's only because it's in the trailer which I saw like ten times.

7. Music (5)
The soundtrack was pretty weak. In theory Timbaland, M.I.A., Busta Rhymes, Lil'Jon, Ne-Yo, Bieber, Fergie, Far East Movement and others could add some punch but there was nothing good until the credits. If anything, I found myself enjoying the songs played during the scenes Emily and Sean are slow dancing together. The Cinematic Orchestra's "To Build a Home" for example. Nice track but that's not the type of music I'm looking for from a dance movie. My movie mate is still using the Step Up 3 soundtrack on her workout playlist two years later; I doubt anything here will have that long of a shelf life.

While I'm no fan of Pitbull, it's criminal that he didn't get more shine on the soundtrack, seeing as the movie was set in his hometown. Mr. Perez has a guest spot on Fergie's track but the song as a whole sucks. The Pitbull song that should have been on the soundtrack was J.Lo's "Dance Again," which is one of this summer's sleeper fun dance songs. Can we get a redo? Call Me Maybe Remix?

8. Fashion (7)
Utilitarian. Most of the cast was dressed in hip hoppy casual stuffs. There were a few interesting haircuts, especially on the lady DJ, and lots of Beats headphones -- overpriced and sub-par as we all know. Super abs boy Guzman sported a wifebeater throughout most of the movie and McCormick shimmied around in an array of see through tops and dresses. The slightly above average grade is given solely for the art museum scene, which featured some neat costumes and especially a glowy set of ballerina tutus. Nice work.

Oh wait, an added point for the Miami Heat hat that Guzman wears in one scene. It was not even a throwback but a fake throwback that had the biggest branding sign on the back. I'm thinking it was a custom. Come to think of it, Sean wears a lot of area specific sports caps. That means that the Florida Marlins hat made its first and quite possibly last appearance in a major motion picture.

9. Cultural Impact (2)
This probably marks the film that will kill the Step Up franchise. In theory they could crank these out forever -- since they are quite profitable -- but there was nothing new or exciting added to the formula. I mean, the story tried to add some depth by presenting dance as protest but that's just ridiculous. Flash mobs are not a political statement. Any art form can say something but this isn't the movie to explore those avenues. C'mon, at the end of the film The Mob sells out to Nike. Way to stand up against the man guys.

Suspension of disbelief for this film rivaled anything I've needed since White Nights. Aside from all the "we can affect change through dance" chatter, it was hard to believe that a guerrilla dance group could repeatedly invade private spaces and everyone would just let them finish their routines. Plus they didn't even bother to obscure their faces in their videos, making it pretty hard to believe the police couldn't figure out who they were. Okay I'm probably taking this too seriously.

Unless the next Step Up goes in an entirely radical direction, I fear this series is on the decline. Then again, we thought the same thing about The Fast and the Furious and Fast Five was awesome! I think the move is to bring back Channing Tatum. Sure he's too big now but just throw ten million at him and dare him to say "no."

10. Miscellaneous (4)
Director Scott Speer did a few episodes of Legion of Extraordinary Dancers and it shows. The look of the movie was nice but just like the LXD series, it was missing a lot of oomph during the dance parts. Jon M. Chu where are you? Come back to the franchise! Bonus fact: Speer is the on-again, off-again beau of Ashley Tisdale. Not that you cared.

In the movie, Sean's crew is trying to accumulate ten million hits on their YouTube channel to win a $100,000 prize. I find it difficult to believe that they couldn't get ten million hits -- especially after going viral and even horning their way onto national newscasts. I mean, the trailer for Step Up Revolution has 9,062,853 hits right now. They couldn't get to ten million? This detail really bothered me for some reason.

On IMDB, in the search bar, the text says "Step Up 4: Miami Heat" instead of the proper name for the movie. That must have been a placeholder before the final title was announced but it's kind of funny. (Oh wait, what am I talking about, I hate the Heat! Damn you for beating my Celtics. Damn you for taking Ray Allen!)

Ouch, Step Up Revolution came out with the worst scores of any dance movie I've rated. Way lower compared to my reviews for Step Up and Step Up 3. This doesn't mean it isn't worth a watch however. I mean, compared to stuff back in the day, the dancing here is spectacular. And if you were one of the old couples sitting to our right or to our left -- what were they doing at this movie opening day? -- you would be suitably impressed with what dancers are capable of these days. We've come a long way since Save the Last Dance and Honey.

Having said that, the low scores for a super lame story, no sidekicks, horrible dialogue, and nothing extra thrown into the mix really torpedoed the overall score here. This one's for dance fanatics only. Mia Michael's teacher says to Emily after her first audition [paraphrased]: "Your technique is good. Exquisite even. But you don't have any originality. Find some." That pretty much sums up Step Up Revolution. The motions are all correct but we needed more.

Of course, I am already looking forward to Step Up Whatever in 2014. Mark your calendars fellow dance movie addicts, Step Up 5 will need our full support!