Though the setting of the fourth Step Up film, Step Up Revolution, follows its predecessor’s lead and sets its action far from Baltimore’s Maryland School of the Arts (the setting of the first two films, which I have come to miss) and down in steamy Miami, the rest of the film’s basic structure still smacks of every other entry in the franchise (and many other films in its particular genre). As has become the Step Up norm, Step Up Revolution centers on a pair of star-crossed lovers (one rich, one not-so-rich) who are brought together by dance before they are torn apart by outside influences (friends, parents, economics, the usual). Ultimately, they must turn back to dance to repair their relationship and to somehow “beat” whatever it was that tore them apart in the first place.

While Step Up Revolution makes no great strides (or twirls) in some of the most basic elements of moviemaking – acting, writing, even simple plotting – it does manage to boast the best dance sequences of any of the four films. In other words, thank goodness this is a dance film.

The film opens with a bumping, pumping dance sequence that unfolds on Miami’s famed Ocean Drive. It’s quite similar in tone and momentum to a familiar sequence from Step Up 2: The Streets, one that featured guerrilla tactics to present eye-popping dance moves to an unsuspecting public. These sorts of moves (dancing and metaphorical) become the crux (and crutch) of Step Up Revolution, as the film centers on Miami’s own Mob, a dance crew desperate to get noticed by way of their incredible (and often dangerous and very inventive) moves. Led by Sean (Ryan Guzman), the fate of the Mob is threatened by evil land developer Mr. Anderson (land developers are always, always evil in films like this), desperate to snatch up their historical homeland (poised, weirdly, on the edge of what appears to be an industrial run-off site) for his latest project. Sean, of course, also gets tangled up with Anderson’s daughter, Emily (Kathryn McCormick), who is also (conveniently!) a dancer bent on establishing her own name.

While all four Step Up films have included a central romance, the chemistry between the leads has never matched the first film (which is exceedingly convenient for Step Up stars Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan, considering that they married each other after meeting during that production). Much like the last Step Up, the lackluster (though exceedingly eager) Step Up 3D, the romance between Revolution‘s leads is unrewarding and unbelievable. Guzman and McCormick seem game enough, and they approximate affection through lots of lingering gazes and sexy dance holds and hugs, but they just don’t spark and Amanda Brody‘s thin writing offers them nothing to fall back on. Fortunately enough for them (and us), the romantic elements of the film are far from essential, and it’s much easier and much more fun to enjoy the film for its dancing and attempts at hitting on the current economic climate of the country (one of those is obviously much more fun).

Step Up Revolution is, however, the most forward-thinking of the franchise – whereas the most modern bit of the previous films was Step Up 2‘s use of text messages to announce the time and date of its eponymous The Streets competition, Revolution relies on YouTube for its ostensible competition (the Mob enters a contest that awards the makers of the first video to reach one million hits a major cash prize and lots of exposure) while also using its dancing as “protest art” (interestingly, Step Up Revolution kicked off its filming during the first weeks of the Occupy Wall St. occupation, though that seems like a happy coincidence).

The film features four large scale dance sequences, all crafted for maximum audience enjoyment and placed in neat intervals throughout the film to pump up the slack, rote rest of it. To be sure, the Step Up franchise quickly evolved from the more couple-centric dancing of its first film into massive, throbbing affairs that necessitated such big numbers with giant casts of characters to up the wow factor. And that’s paid off before – the final sequence of Step Up 2: The Streets (the rain dance) is still impressive and inventive, and Step Up Revolution comes close to matching it before its opening credits are even over, before steamrolling right over that dance with a museum-set sequence that is that rare thing in the world of Step Up – genuinely beautiful and jaw-dropping.

It’s perhaps the one portion of Step Up Revolution that works perfectly, in terms of its design and its overall effect. Set up as Emily’s true introduction to the Mob (and Sean’s real skills), Sean lures his paramour to the opening of a new exhibit at the local modern museum, which the Mob have infiltrated and retrofitted as their own. It’s breathtaking stuff what they (and their choreography team and, to some extent, director Scott Speer) cook up, stunning and clever stuff that elevates the film far beyond the rest of its silly, by-the-numbers means. If only it was all as transcendent as this sequence.

Also worth noting is, that for a film that relies so heavily on its dance numbers, it’s confounding just how horrific Step Up Revolution‘s soundtrack is. Mainly made up of what I can only imagine lasers would sound like if lasers were interested in making rap music (possibly with production done by airplanes), songs like Diplo’s “U Don’t Like Me” and Travis Barker’s “Let’s Go” and Far East Movement’s “Live My Life” throw in all sorts of woops, wahhs, sirens, and demands to get your ass moving or to go somewhere or something similar (I’m not entirely sure as to all the lyrics, because they all sound the same, and yes, this soundtrack is single-handedly responsible for making me feel like the world’s youngest old person), so it’s a further credit to the film’s dance sequences that, after awhile, you just stop hearing what is apparently now classified as “music” and relish the dancing. Oh, the dancing.

The Upside: The dancing. Holy hell, the dancing. Also, Peter Gallagher’s eyebrows.

The Downside: The chemistry-less romance, highly predictable script, and WHAWHA IDONTLIKEYOUWHAABOOM PEWPEWPEWLASERPLANES soundtrack.

On the Side: Stephen “Twitch” Boss reprises his role from Step Up 3D, Jason who was “born from a boombox.” And he’s not the only one…

 


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