Step Up 3-D is probably the Citizen Kane of the street-dance movie genre, but if we were to rank it on the full cinematic spectrum, it would likely sit on the wrong side of From Justin To Kelly. I’m sure certain viewers will get something from a viewing of the third film of the Step Up saga; probably the same sensation they experience during an episode of So You Think You Can Dance. As in that show, the stars of Step Up are all tremendously talented dancers. That’s never in question. However, the young performers on SYTYCD aren’t burdened with the task of having to portray characters or convey emotions.
If the film had been cut down to a lean four or five minutes, director Jon Chu could claim to have made one of the great music videos of all time. Instead it lumbers on, ending with a length 25-times greater than recommended. Such will always be the case when you try to tie a wafer-thin plot to a series of dance sequences. I just don’t understand why filmmakers/screenwriters/studios don’t try to make the experience interesting for audiences. Why trot out the same tropes time and time again? I’m not saying we need The Red Shoes every time out; I’d settle for a Fish Tank, or hell, even a Centre Stage if they’ve got one handy. There are no surprises in the latest Step Up – except perhaps the ominous realisation that the film is inching towards the two-hour mark. They may as well have re-released the original Step Up or Step Up 2 The Streets in 3-D and badged it as a sequel. Hey, maybe they did! I probably wouldn’t have noticed either way.
The film begins promisingly. Aspiring documentarian Luke (Rick Malambri) interviews the members of his New York dance crew – The Pirates – about what they love about dancing. It’s the one heartfelt and genuine moment in the whole picture, and hints towards a viewing experience that won’t be completely obnoxious. The feeling doesn’t last long. We are soon introduced to Moose (Adam Sevani), a Shia LaBeouf-looking urchin who has enrolled at NYU to study engineering, but damn it, HE JUST WANTS TO DANCE! Within moments of walking onto the university grounds, he finds himself caught in a dance battle with the city’s most threatening and dangerous dance troupe – The Samurai. I’m not totally sure what is so threatening about a bunch of people dancing at you, nor am I fully aware of what the consequences of losing such a battle would be. For the sake of getting this over with, I’ll accept it and move on. Sure. Threatening dancers. That’s a thing.
Moose is swept into Luke’s popping-and-locking ensemble of dancers, who are in training for a giant dance battle with a prize of $100,000! Why, that’s the exact figure required for Luke to pay off his debt to the bank for the club he owns!! But wait, they’ll have to defeat The Samurai, who are not only eager to position themselves as the best dancers in New York, but to also buy out the Luke’s club!!! Here’s hoping mysterious newcomer Natalie (Sharni Vinson) doesn’t cause any trouble, romantic or otherwise. By the way, I hope you’re keeping count of the clichés.
You already know the plot. You already know the beats. You already know the ending. So what is there to keep you from sleeping during the film’s (relatively epic) 107 minute run-time? Aside from the frustratingly in-your-face 3D? Well, fancy dancing for one. Yes, the dance sequences are mostly spectacular, particularly the one-take romp through the stoops of NYC. But I’m not convinced shiny dance routines alone are worthy of a feature film – even a thinly-veiled excuse for one such as this. With no one to care about, Step Up 3-D is merely a parade of flashy choreography. The humour is lame; the drama inauthentic; the background plastered with product placement. The only laugh comes during the end credits, when the phrase “featuring characters created by Duane Adler” pops up onto the screen. This film had characters? Now that’s entertainment.