Step Up 3D
Film review by: Witney Seibold
What a gloriously delightful movie. Everything about John Chu‘s “Step Up 3D” feels gleefully antiquated; so wondrously old-fashioned. It may feature a hip young cast, it may feature some of the day’s recent techno hits, it may be infused of all the recent fashions, it may have a finale that’s coated in light-up LED suits and Silverhawks-style laserbeams, and it may have been shot in 3-D using the most recent 3-D technologies, but “Step Up 3D” has its roots firmly, firmly planted in the dance movie soil of time immemorial.
Like slasher movies and kung-fu flicks, dance-off films are known and celebrated for their predictability; their banality and total lack of dramatic tension are large parts of their charm. There is nothing about the story of “Step Up 3D” that invokes any sense of dread, any sense that the good guys will lose, or even that there’s anything at stake. Which is, I think, they way it ought to be. I don’t want anything all too serious in my dance movies. “Step Up 3D” even goes one further by not only peppering itself with most every dance movie cliché one can imagine, but then bothers to leave things broad and resolved in the simplest way possible. It’s a film that seems to take delight in thumbing its nose at certain dramatic tropes just so it can get to a dance number; here’s a film so eager to get dancing that it skips all but the most rudimentary setups. This is a film that uses dance the same way the old Astaire/Rogers films used to: to reveal the emotional states of the characters. They dance to show they’re in love.
Take, for example, the scene in which Moose (the most interesting characters from “Step Up 2: The Streets,” still played by Adam G. Sevani) must make amends to his would-be girlfriend Camille (Alyson Stoner, whose character showed up in the first “Step Up”). They approach an ice-cream truck, and ask the Brooklynese ice cream man to crank the volume on his music. It’s “I Won’t Dance” by Fred Astaire. The two of them are possessed of the terpsichorean muse, and spend a three-minute unbroken, unedited shot dancing down the streets of New York, leaping through taxis, stealing hats, and having a generally good time of things. It’s such a sweet scene. That is a scene that could have been in a Gene Kelly film.
Yes, the film is riding on the recent trend of 3D, but I would argue that “Step Up 3D” uses the gimmick just right: as a gimmick. Thanks to heavy hitters like “Avatar,” Hollywood seems to be under the impression that 3-D is the future of filmmaking, and in order to make a film seems more “immersive” and, hence “important” (and hence “slightly higher ticket price”), they will release it with all the latest bells and whistles. 3-D today is the same as 3-D in the 1950s: it’s nothing more than a cheap gimmick to distract you from your home entertainment. And as long as that’s true, let’s treat it like a gimmick. Let’s include 3-D only when it’s clearly there to produce sugar-coated, hyperactive, sticking-out-right-at-me wowser effects in genre films. When “Clash of the Titans” and “The Last Airbender” are in 3-D, it’s clearly a cynical grab at your cash; a need to further pump up a potential blockbuster. When “My Bloody Valentine,” and “Piranha 3-D” are in 3-D, the gimmick becomes so very transparent, that it ought to be celebrated. There’s even something delightfully old school about the film’s title. It recalls a previous generation of Amityvilles and Jawses.
The story is a trifle: Moose has given up dancing to go to NYU with Camille. In the first scene, though, he accidentally gets involved in a miniature dance off with a dangerous “evil” clan of dancers called The Samurai. He also gets the attention of our hero Luke (Rick Malambri). Luke is the head of a loose outfit of dancers called The Pirates (which include some sassy twins, a red-haired punk girl, and some guys dressed like extras on “A Different World”), who live in a mid-’90s loft, away from parents, and seemingly without jobs, although they can afford a wall of boomboxes and their very own show store. Luke needs Moose and his team to win The Most Important Dance Competition in the World, or else he’ll lose his lease. Luke is also making a film about his dancers. He also runs a club. It seems to me that Luke could afford to pay the rent on a building like this, but never mind.
Oh, Luke has a love interest in the lithe, olive-skinned Natalie (Sharni Vinson), who dresses like Briana Evigan from the last “Step Up” movie. The two of them meet at a club, and are eventually standing on air grates, magically floating their Icees for romantic effect. Forget monsters and aliens and exploding cars. The 3-D floating Icees are what I go to the movies to see.
Yes, Natalie has a deadly secret, but it’s not so deadly. Yes, The Pirates must eventually find a new place to dance, but it’s not so bad. Yes, Moose almost misses a dance contest because he has to take an exam, but he still makes it. Moose almost loses his friend, but they dance and everything is o.k. I did say in my review of “Step Up 2” that Moose was interesting and I wanted to see more of him. John Chu gave me my wish.
There’s not a lot at stake in this movie. But that’s the way it ought to be. Everything is as sweet and as light as those floating frozen treats. It’s not so much a drama as a celebration. An unadulterated dance spectacle that’s shaped like a film. And we don’t get those enough.
N.B. I saw this film with a group of swoony teenage girls in the film. They talked throughout the movie, and cheered when characters kissed. They would applaud the dance numbers. This crowd only enhanced my experience with “Step Up 3D.” this is a film that needs to be chittered about, not consumed in somber silence.