Step Up 3D
Directed by Jon Chu
Screenplay by Amy Andelson and Emily Meyer
Rick Malambri as Luke
Adam G. Sevani as Moose
Sharni Vinson as Natalie
Alyson Stoner as Camille
Keith Stallworth as Jacob
Kendra Andrews as Anala
Stephen Boss as Jason (as Stephen ‘tWitch’ Boss)
Martín Lombard as The Santiago Twins
Facundo Lombard as The Santiago Twins
The “Step Up” Franchise Finally Steps Up Its Game
Step Up 3D has no right whatsoever to be a good movie, and yet here we are anyway, calling it the best film in the Step Up franchise. If you read my reviews this past week of Step Up and Step Up 2 The Streets, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is damning the third film with faint praise, but it’s not. Step Up 3D is a good movie. Not an instant classic, but a genuine celebration of music, dance, filmmaking, and yes, even 3D, and their power to entertain. Step Up 3D will leave audiences smiling from ear to ear, and probably bobbing their heads in residual rhythm to the movie’s pounding soundtrack. The best part is that you don’t have to feel guilty about it this time. Step Up 3D has its flaws, but for once a movie in this commercially successful but critically maligned franchise actually overcomes its idiosyncrasies, rather than succeeding in spite of them.
A few years have passed since the events of Step Up 2 The Streets, and Moose (Adam G. Sevani) has moved to New York to study electrical engineering at NYU with Camille (Alyson Stoner), who sat out the second film but was Tyler Gage’s foster sister in the first Step Up. They’ve been friends for years, so love is inevitable, but first there must be conflict: Moose promised his parents that he would give up dancing in favor of a more practical career, but he’s barely in New York five minutes before he finds himself winning a street battle with a legendary dancer. Soon he’s whisked away by Luke (Rick Malambri), who’s a sort of street dancing version of Professor X, collecting uniquely talented dancers and training them in an elaborate Danger Room above the nightclub his parents left him. He sees a lot of talent in Moose, who soon starts leading a double life that gives him purpose but threatens his grades and burgeoning romance with Camille.
Whereas the first Step Up was a straightforward high school romance, and Step Up 2 The Streets fused the dance genre with elements of heist movies, Step Up 3D finds a more successful blend. All the superhero elements above fit the new emphasis on dance battles over mere competitions, and popular action movie motifs like free-running and even non-diegetic sound effects like cocked pistols and explosions are littered throughout the choreographed conflicts like shrapnel. But despite the spectacular choreography – and equally spectacular villains, some of whom even dress and dance like post-apocalyptic road warriors – Step Up 3D retains a sense of innocent romance. A big part of that is the presence of charming protagonists like Moose and Camille, who somehow steal the whole film with their sweet, one-take wonder performance of Fred Astaire’s “I Won’t Dance” (remixed of course, albeit respectfully so).
But although Moose and Camille are the returning characters (other cameos do abound, so take heart, dedicated fans), they’re not allowed to carry the film. Luke’s problems provide the meat of the story, as he struggles to keep his team’s headquarters up-and-running despite perpetual Capra-esque threats of foreclosure. His opponents, curiously off-screen for most of the film (often to the detriment of some much-needed suspense), include his corrupt former dance partner Julien, played by Joe Slaughter, an actor with a more imposing name than his supervillain character’s. Luke also meets and falls in love with Natalie (Sharni Vinson) before fate tears them apart. He’s got a lot going on, this guy, and Malambri is a charismatic presence even if his goodness sometimes borders on messianic. But hey, there’s that superhero element again, isn’t it?
Of course, Step Up 3D isn’t just a superhero movie. It’s a superhero team movie, and Luke’s crew “The Pirates” are filled with memorable characters, if only for their distinctive characteristics and abilities. There are the identical twins, Martin and Facundo Lombard, whose similarities always feel like an elaborate special effect on the dance floor, and of course Chadd Smith, who might single-handedly make The Robot popular again with his fantastical and mechanical dance moves. His seemingly impossible motions are always accompanied by hydraulic sound effects, even if they aren’t part of the song, so it’s easy to just pretend he’s the team’s highly intelligent robot sidekick, and the comic book illusion is complete. I never thought I’d see The Vision in a dance-off, but now I suppose I have.
There’s not much to Step Up 3D, and it would be hard to find deeper meaning beyond a base love of art in all of its forms. But deeper meaning isn’t necessary, even if there was plenty of room for it in this lightweight little charmer. Director Jon Chu (who also helmed the less-assured Step Up 2 The Streets) even makes the most of the 3-D technology, cleverly using foreground elements, complex choreography and an enhanced lighting scheme to make the most of the process while diminishing its more negative effects. There are distractingly silly nods to a gimmick made throughout the film in the form of Moose popping CGI bubbles and a preposterous bit of product placement for Icee in a big romantic scene, but the movie always settles quickly back in to what it’s best at: beautiful dance moves. There’s a number I particularly liked where they used Jazmine Sullivan’s “Bust Your Windows” as an elaborate James Bond-styled tango of espionage. The music fit the scene perfectly, the lyrics less so, but this is one of those films where listening to what people say comes secondary to the way they move, and in this context there’s nothing wrong with that.
Step Up 3D is perfect summer entertainment: sunny and entertaining, without any of the unnecessary melodrama that sank the previous films in a bog of their own ambition. This is lighthearted filmmaking that deserves to be praised, even if it doesn’t belong in the upper echelon of the dance (or superhero) genres. But that’s a big “if.” Time will either make fools of us all, or be very kind to this sweet little movie in which everybody finally stepped up and earned their respect, popularity, and yes, even a little critical acclaim. Bravo. Bravissimo.