The latest movie in the Step Up franchise aims for a politicized message behind all the flashy moves but it could do with a lot less plot and a lot more dancing. In Step Up Revolution the Miami dance group "The Mob" takes to the streets (and other random locations) to perform intricately choreographed routines with their own DJ a camera guy who uploads their videos to YouTube and a graffiti artist who leaves their signature behind. It takes at least that much effort just to get hipster New Yorkers to ride the subways without any pants on once a year; it's hard to believe that The Mob could pull off their elaborate schemes without getting caught but that's the magic of movies.
The Mob represents the more diverse working class side of Miami a young multiracial group of friends who create incredible works of art that disappear before they get shut down. One of the Mob's leaders Sean (Ryan Guzman) earnestly explains to newcomer Emily (Kathryn McCormick) that the group's reason is to give a voice to the voiceless or to be happy or to dance or something. It's not really clear but they have a lot of fun and look amazing doing it.
Once Sean and his friends find out that a greedy developer plans to raze their neighborhood to make way for another South Beach-style hotel monstrosity they have a reason to rally but until then they're just trying to win a cash prize by getting clicks on YouTube. The typical Step Up twist is that Emily is the developer's daughter. Mr. Anderson (Peter Gallagher) doesn't approve of Emily's love of dancing or other frippery and he certainly wouldn't approve of her hanging out with the people causing such mayhem in the streets of Miami.
Step Up Revolution biggest misstep is trying to give the movie more of a hook than the franchise's typical Romeo and Juliet-style love story and tap into "the Zeitgeist" (I swear that's from the studio-provided press notes) of flash mobs. The film could have cut out most of the plot and characters and still have a completely intact film insofar as the point of the film is its multimedia dance routines. The sort of productions The Mob pulls off are more akin to carefully planned art installations or music videos in terms of scope; it would have been better to at least make that somehow feasible in terms of the storyline. Yes we are here for a spectacle and we surely get a spectacle but it needs to have some roots in reality.
The dance scenes are fun sexy and occasionally a little sappy but overall quite enjoyable for people who enjoy "So You Think You Can Dance" type of shows. Kathryn McCormick and Stephen "tWitch" Boss both appeared on "SYTYCD" and their costar Misha Gabriel is a classically trained ballet dancer turned pro back-up dancer for folks like Beyoncé and Michael Jackson. Guzman doesn't have a dance background but he is an MMA fighter who obviously took his training very seriously. The entire outfit is pretty damn entertaining to be honest.
As far as the 3D goes it makes most of Miami look overcast and grey. The extra zings added in to make sure we get our money's worth like sand flicking out at us or a breakdancer whose foot seems to be aiming for our face only serves to distract from the real show at hand. There is also an awful lot of ramping and generally spazzy editing tricks that look cheap. The screenplay by Amanda Brody is definitely not its strong suit.
Step Up Revolution is the cinematic equivalent of a trashy beach novel. It's embarrassing to be caught actually enjoying it and you'll forget about it almost immediately but it's a decent way to spend a summer afternoon.
Don’t worry if you haven’t seen the first Step Up; you won’t feel lost. The dance movies these days mostly rely on the hot soundtrack and even hotter bodies flipping around. Having a coherent story is just a bonus and while the two movies are similar in theme--kid from the streets goes to a prestigious arts academy--and the original’s Channing Tatum makes a cameo to tie it all together the two films can stand alone as they are. In this case the kid is a 16-year-old orphan named Andie (Briana Evigan) who grew up in the same Baltimore neighborhood as Tatum’s Tyler. She’s a fierce dancer whose “crew” is the reigning champ in street dancing. But Andie also gets into trouble a lot and as an ultimatum from her guardian she is forced to attend the Maryland School of the Arts or be shipped away. Soon fish-out-of-water Andie ends up meeting other MSA students who dare to be different and who want to break away from the snooty confines of the school--including resident hottie Chase (Robert Hoffman)--and so they form their own crew to compete on the streets. In the rain no less. Although it’s hard to say if there is going to a breakout star such as Channing Tatum Step Up 2’s cast of mostly unknown actors/dancers still makes the film more visceral. Evigan (daughter to TV star Greg Evigan) is a fresh face with a refreshingly normal-looking body especially for a dancer and a raspy Kathleen Turner voice. While she naturally handles the shimmies and shakes with aplomb she’s also fairly convincing in the more dramatic moments as her Andie is torn between her street crew and her new friends at MSA. Hoffman (She's the Man) also does a fine job as Chase playing him with an easygoing charm and killer smile. Still the two of them unfortunately don’t create the same kind of heat Tatum and Jenna Dewan did in the original Step Up and the sequel suffers from it a bit. Then there’s the crew of MSA misfits all just about as different looking as you can get but who can all MOVE like it’s nobody’s business including the nerdy Moose (Adam G. Sevani) and hip-hopping Japanese exchange student Jenny (Mari Koda)--and a guy with bad teeth (LaJon Dantzler)! There’s also R&B recording star Cassie Ventura making her film debut as Chase’s ex-girlfriend Sophie a singer/actor/dancer who seems MSA old-school but kicks it to the streets when it counts. Thank goodness. But of course Step Up 2 all boils down to the dance sequences montages and the final showdown on the rain-drenched streets. If those don’t work then the movie is going to fall flat on its face. Luckily USC School of Cinematic Arts graduate Jon Chu making his directorial debut with Step Up 2 shows off some of those skills he learned in school. The choreographed set pieces are done well culminating with the MSA crew showing off their stuff as the rain pours down on them. The dancing in Step Up 2 isn’t necessarily groundbreaking but still for those of us who only wish we could move like that it’s fun to watch. Of course having a rap-pounding soundtrack--which includes tracks from T-Pain Missy Elliott Flo Rida Cassie Kevin Michael featuring Wyclef and more--helps as well. All these elements make Step Up 2 a worthy sequel--and its soundtrack a worthy download on iTunes.
Set in the turbulent ‘60s each character in Across the Universe represents a different aspect to the unstable times. There’s naïve Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) whose eyes are opened to the possibilities of life beyond her WASPy sheltered upbringing; adventurous Jude (Jim Sturgess) who breaks away from his Liverpool working-class roots to make it as an artist in New York; and Lucy’s brother Max (Joe Anderson) a college dropout who eventually gets drafted and sent to Vietnam. There’s also Sadie (Dana Fuchs) a Janis Joplin-esque rock singer; her guitar-playing lover Jo-Jo (Martin Luther McCoy) who hails from the riot-torn streets of Detroit; and even a burgeoning lesbian named Prudence (T.V. Carpio). They are all soon swept up into the '60s' emerging psychedelic anti-war and counterculture movements while Across the Universe lets the songs from one of the era’s most influential bands tell the story. But what drives the film is Jude and Lucy’s love for each other—and all you need is love right? You know you are in for something different when indie darling Evan Rachel Wood (Thirteen) is the most recognizable star. Luckily for Across the Universe the cast of unknowns delivers--and then some. Making his film debut newcomer Sturgess is a particular standout looking very much like one of the Beatles boys in their heyday. His earnest performance as the love-struck Jude immediately hits a chord (pun intended) and he makes breaking out into a Beatles tune seem entirely natural. Wood doesn’t seem as comfortable with the vocals but the actress has a lovely voice--and of course handles Lucy’s emotional ups and downs with aplomb. All the rest of the supporting cast does a wonderful job adding their own unique reinterpretations to the songs (and yes both “Hey Jude” and “Dear Prudence” pop up). The big fun with Across the Universe however are the cameo appearances: Eddie Izzard sings “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” as a surreal circus ringleader; Joe Cocker sings “Come Together” alternating between a pimp bum and hippie; Salma Hayek takes nursing to a new level in a “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” number; and finally U2’s Bono sings “I Am the Walrus” as the Beat poet/counterculturist Dr. Robert. You haven’t experienced life until you've heard Bono sing “Goo goo g'joob.” In any original musical there is always something a little disconcerting when a character just breaks out into song even if it’s Julie Andrews standing on top of a mountain. But as with Moulin Rouge a character singing a song we all recognize--well that’s a little different. And honestly who doesn’t love Beatles music? Still director Julie Taymor (Frida) took a big chance creating a musical around the legacy that is Beatlemania. It must have been a daunting task searching through the annals of Beatles music to find just the right tunes for just the right moment--but her extremely inventive ways truly pay off. From Uncle Sam screaming “I Want You!” from a poster hanging in an Army recruiting office to Max and his college buddies running around campus belting out “With a Little Help from My Friends ” everything fits taking us on this journey of life love and self-enlightenment. Although Taymor’s forte clearly lies with the very wild and artistic most evident in Across the Universe’s psychedelic acid trips she also expertly highlights the stark reality of a turbulent time. Taymor is a romantic at heart though—a romantic who adores the Beatles. John Lennon would be proud.