Step Up 3D (review)

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Stumbles and Missteps

I can’t say there are lots of reasons to love Step Up 3D, but there are good reasons not to hate it. The dancing is amazing, for one: the things these kids can do with their bodies seem to defy physics, all the tossing themselves up into the air and landing on body parts on entirely different sides of their bodies 20 minutes later and whatnot… all with funky rhythm and to a funky beat. The dancing is inventive and aggressive, infectiously so: it made me wish I could move the way these kids do. It must feel fantastic to express yourself like that.

And they’re adorable, actually, these kids, even the “tough” ones, for whom toughness is really just a facade covering up their vulnerability and their insecurity. They stick together and invent their own family and support one another in their dreams and love one another without condition across race and gender. They’re so cute and Millennial with their teamwork and their wacky style and their fresh-faced enthusiam that you want to just hug them all to death.

But that’s not enough to make a movie. Step Up 3D is an awfully nice movie, with its heart in the right place, and it’s refreshingly not meanspirited, as so many mainstream films seem to be, even when they work. I consider it a terrible commentary on the abysmal state of modern moviehood that I had to remind myself that this is not enough to give a movie a pass. Are things really this bad that I was almost ready to say, “What the hell, give it a shot on DVD” to a movie this honestly dreadful in all the ways a movie is supposed to be not dreadful?

Because it really is a whole lotta not good, this deeply incompetent film chock full of terribly clichéd dialogue — “Dance music: it’s just always been there for me, I guess” — delivered by insincere actors, and full of plot points that, when they occur, make you wonder why they feel so very wrong and implausible, and then, once they’re “explained,” just make you want to groan. I’m trying not to spoil Step Up 3D’s big dramatic thing, but when I was confronted with what turned out to be the setup for it, I thought: This is a ‘Law and Order’ episode waiting to happen…

It is indeed New York City here, where Luke (Ashton Kutcher clone Rick Malambri) operates The Vault, a Brooklyn warehouse turned clubhouse for hip-hop-y street dancers with nowhere else to go. And it’s where Moose (Adam G. Sevani, who looks like the love child of Shia LaBeouf and Michael Cera) has just started an engineering degree at NYU, much to the relief of his dad, who is so glad Moose gave up that faggy dancing stuff. I don’t think Dad actually uses the phrase “faggy dancing stuff,” but almost, and anyway, no sooner has Moose said goodbye to Mom and Dad that, literally moments later, he finds himself smack dab in the middle of a raging dance war between the House of Pirates — that would be Luke’s gang — and the House of Samurai, who are apparently bad and evil and headed up by a guy who has a trust fund (Joe Slaughter). We can tell that Luke is good and noble because the bank is about to foreclose on The Vault, as is happening to all good and noble people these days. But if the Pirates can win the World Jam competition, with its $100,000 prize, they can send Mr. Potter packing. Hoorah!

There’s surprisingly little dancing between all the unbelievably cornball melodrama about Luke’s battle with the bank and his newfound love for new girl Natalie (Sharni Vinson), and about Moose’s conflicts between dancing for the Pirates and getting to engineering finals on time, and how he’s neglecting his bestest friend Camille (Alyson Stoner), whom we learn at a perfectly convenient moment is also a dancer able to propel the plot along. The multiracial loveliness of the cast starts to be less lovely when you realize that no one who isn’t white is going to get any significant screentime, unless a joke can be made of their accents. Even the final dance scene that runs over the credits ends up being about product placement.

By that point, whatever minor charms Step Up 3D may have had to offer have been overtaken by the nonsense. Nice, goodhearted nonsense, but still.

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Sun, Aug 08, 2010 6:05am

My younger sister wanted to see this since she used to be a dancer.

Hmm, maybe I’ll just pirate it instead.

Matt C
Matt C
Sun, Aug 08, 2010 10:45am

It just looked really, really awful. It’s a dance movie, so people aren’t going to see it for the plot or acting. But even those looked really bad.

And that end title credit roll while the guy is moving his arms to the beat is utterly cringeworthy.

Hasimir Fenring
Sun, Aug 08, 2010 3:36pm

how he’s neglecting his bestest friend Camille (Alyson Stoner)

So they’re naming actors after their types now?

Mon, Aug 09, 2010 11:59am

I saw this movie yesterday, and I was excited to do so. From the moment I saw the crucial line of dialog in Step Up 2 The Streets, “We’re gonna be outside, where the streets started,” I knew that this series would bring an incalculable amount of bad-movie joy to my life.

The 3D dancing scenes ARE enough to make the movie worth recommending.

The acting is horrible (the rooftop Icee scene was beyond cringeworthy), the plot worse (Inspired by Breakin’ 2?), and the product placement beyond egregious. (Don’t forget: the conflict is actually kicked off by the main character wanting to see some “Famous Maker” shoes up close.)

But people in my theater were dancing in their seats, hooting and hollering at the right moments, and saying things like “Damn!” It was a really fun movie theater experience.

Seeing it on DVD or on television might be one of the worst experiences someone could have, so basically, you want to decide if you’re in the target audience. If you are, see it in the theater. If not, skip it altogether.

Thu, Aug 26, 2010 12:38pm

I’m sad to see a “Skip It” for Step Up and “rent it” for Expendables. I’m an action buff but, I thought this was one of the most enjoyable experiences I had in a theater this whole year.

On a purely technical level, the 3D honestly rivals “Avatar” and I honestly (as an editor by trade) feel the cutting in this thing could be nominated for awards. That being said, yes, the script is Razzie-worthy, but no worse than the abysmal Expendables script. I can understand hating the movie for that. I can also understand hating it for yet again placing the white protagonists front and center in a multicultural cast where so many of the other dancers are obviously better and more charismatic (Twitch, the black techie dude who is now probably most famous for his hilarious routine with Ellen on the So You Think You Can Dance finale, would’ve easily been a more engaging lead)

But like Gordon says, I have to disagree on the “Skip It” because for what it is, the dancing in Step Up 3D is some of the best stuff ever committed to screen. If the Gene Kelly-esque dance number in the street (ALL CAPTURED IN ONE SHOT!) isn’t worth the price of admission by itself, I don’t know what is.

We’ve become extremely forgiving of films with bad scripts so long as they satisfy us with CGI-heavy set pieces and bigger than fuck explosions, how refreshing is it to see kids honestly working their asses off to give us real-life special effects? How awesome is it to see, like Tony Jaa or vintage Jet Li, motion that can not simply be modeled in a computer and made perfect by pressing “Render”.

I personally believe this film is the future on a primal level and sets a new bar of doing what film was made to do, capture MOTION, not flat booms and pows, but real life in movement… what else is a motion picture really? I recommend this film for the same reasons that I would recommend “Ip Man”, “Ong Bak”, or “Fist of Legend”, movement and motion.

Forgive me, I really am a fan, MA, but everyone has been relentlessly shitting on this movie while giving its more testosterone heavy counterparts a free pass. And again, I say that as an action fan.