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Dance movies are a curious little subgenre. The category doesn’t exactly spin out huge hits, but Hollywood finds a reason to make them for the niche of people who enjoy them. They’re light on storyline, rough on acting, and solid on dance. That’s the dance flick formula and Step Up 3-D doesn’t deviate one iota. The actors are terrible and the plot is as worn out as the Macarena but the dance sequences are awesome in 3-D and that’s all the core fans ever wanted.
The third in a franchise that began in 2006 follows Moose (Adam Sevani), last seen in Step Up 2: The Streets, as he heads to NYU. He is studying engineering and tells his parents he’s given up dancing for good. He gets roped back in during his college tour and joins a crew of street dancers headed by Luke (Rick Malambri). Along the way another dancer, Natalie (Sharni Vinson), grabs Luke’s attention but she has a secret that could make or break the team as they head into a high stakes dance competition.
The message of the film is “follow your dreams and screw formalities.” When Moose tells Luke he may need to miss a battle due to a test worth 25 percent of his grade, Luke flatly tells him to work it out – he has no choice but to dance. The story is endearing itself to its teenage audience whose concerns and dreams center around escaping authority, loyalty in friendship and doing whatever it takes to get that guy or girl. Director Jon Chu places these ideas into a world where sidewalks, fences, and porches are a dance floor, sneakers are armor, and your “family” is your cute and talented friends.
The film is visually pleasing. The dance world is full of bright colors and fast motion easily toyed with and enhanced in cinema. The 3-D technology was not tacked on. Sure at points there were balloons, bubbles, and even Slurpee jumping off the screen but it is the dance sequences that greatly benefited form the trend. At one point the dancers battle in a flooded stage. Compared to the same gimmick in the previous sequel, adding depth to the water furthered to the excitement.
As is typical in the genre, two rival teams will do battle with good rivaling evil. In this case our protagonists are the House of Pirates, a nomadic group who live and train together in an awesome studio built by Luke’s parents. The evil, disloyal House of Samurai led by a rich kid bullies their way around the dance scene and will do anything to win. The routine story is enlivened by a steady pulse of music and flashy editing.
The movie shows an appreciation for how difficult, intricate, and artistic street dance is. The training montages, silhouettes, and battles are epic. Every object is a prop to be manipulated for dramatic effect or acrobatic exhibition. But the movie was a tad condescending.
Every dilemma is introduced awkwardly in chunks by peripheral characters. Much like a scripted MTV show, the central characters then repeat how the story is coming along repeatedly. Moreover, everything is a bit too convenient. The crew runs into the kindest mortgage lender in America when they fall behind in payments for their training space. It simply wasn’t realistic.
The actors weren’t chosen for their subtle deliveries. The physical performances are outstanding. Nevertheless, the hunky lead and girl of his dreams have dreamy stares and flat dialogue. The supporting cast is wooden, but they are professional dancers not actors after all. The leader of the opposing group is comically overdrawn and actually more difficult to watch as the story goes on.
Step Up 3-D never claimed to be Dirty Dancing or Footloose. It’s a fun film for teenage fans of hip-hop and dance crews. 3-D makes the dances come alive. The frenetic pace of the moves is best experienced in depth and with the passion of the dancers involved. Step Up 3-D had a hard time driving plot, but when the story stood still and the dancers hit the stage the film made all the right moves.
Step Up 3-D
Directed by Jon Chu
Written by Amy Andelson and Emily Meyer
Starring: Rick Malambri, Adam G. Sevani, Sharni Vinson, and Alyson Stoner