Step Up 4: Miami Heat (aka Step Up Revolution) (review)

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Step Up 4 Miami Heat Step Up Revolution Ryan Guzman Kathryn McCormick red light

I’m biast (pro): the trailer looked like fun with a dollop of social conscience
I’m biast (con): haven’t been a fan of this subgenre
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

If there’s one good thing I can say about Step Up Revolution (aka Step Up 4: Miami Heat in the U.K.) — and this applies to most examples of the dance fantasy drama — it’s this: not only is the dancing fantastic, but the sexy is unusually positive, in the grand Hollywood scheme of things. Sure, there’s lots of sweaty grinding and the like, but it’s sweet, unexploitive, doesn’t objectify the women any more than it does the men (and then not much anyway), and makes an unspoken yet clearly defined point that sexy, in these cases, isn’t only about physical attractiveness but physical strength and an abundance of talent and expressiveness. Women are sexy when they’re strong; men are sexy when they’re channeling deep emotion. It’s a cartoonish sort of sexy, to be sure, but way more cheerful, open, and egalitarian than we usually see onscreen.

That said, the moment the dancing stops, it all stumbles into the howlingly ridiculous. There’s this guy in Miami, see, Sean (Ryan Guzman), who heads up an adorably “badass” crew of street dancers who are trying to win a YouTube contest by staging gently disruptive flash mobs across the city, videos of which will hopefully go viral online and rack up a winning view count. These kids today, with their mad skillz yo– well, my appropriation of street culture may be embarrassing, but it approximates how the movie does the same. They can duck security, hack computers, and infiltrate places way too posh for them, such as high-class hotels and museums, mostly down to the high-turnover service jobs they do… which might be an interesting commentary on the plight of These Kids Today had the movie bothered to go in that direction. Instead, it offers us Mr. Anderson (Peter Gallagher: Burlesque, Adam), a hotel developer who wants to bulldoze Sean and the gang’s working-class neighborhood, and a scheme to dance-protest him and his new swanky hotel resort away.

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned that Sean has fallen madly in love with dance student Emily (Kathryn McCormick), a romance that expresses itself almost solely through dance. Emily, naturally, is Anderson’s daughter. Somewhere, the Montagues and Capulets are having a good laugh. Or maybe a cry, at what they have inspired.

You can probably guess how it all ends, so I hardly need to tell you. It goes beyond simplistic and into actively insulting to otherwise very good notions about the power of nonviolent public protest, and also into the preposterously naive about what Sean and Co. are up against. And then it goes beyond that to redefine “triumph” as “sellout” in a way that appears to actively negate everything the story was aiming at. The combination of wishful thinking and gullibility makes for a particularly unappealing brew that completely overshadows whatever mildly likable aspects had made it endurable up till then.

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