Step Up 3D (review)

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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