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Entries in Step Up: Revolution [2012] (1)

Friday
Dec072012

Step Up: Revolution (2012)

Dead Beats

I never expected this to happen in my lifetime: the Step Up franchise has officially become a drag. I have no illusions that this series was ever anything but an excuse to link innovative, big-screen dance performances with the flimsiest of star-crossed-love stories, but Step Up: Revolution is the first to let me down on both fronts.

Mine wasn't even the most broken heart in the house last week. I'd rented Step Up 4 as a pick-me-up for my poor wife, who's been battling a nasty cold, a rambunctious toddler, and my extended work schedule--all with an inhuman positivity achievable only through regular doses of high-quality, escapist trash. 

Unfortunately, we got one out of three: director Scott Speer comes through with some gorgeous trash, but Duane Adler and Amanda Brody's lame screenplay makes the other Step Up movies look like Anna Karenina. Instead of escaping into this tale of renegade Miami dancers, we spent most of the run-time yelling bitchy things at the screen and guessing which characters would fulfill which genre cliche next. This wound up being lots of fun, but our commentary stemmed from desperation instead of inspiration.

The titular revolution occurs when a real estate developer named Mr. Anderson (Peter Gallagher) announces plans to buy a strip of homes and local businesses in order to expand his luxury-hotel empire. Many of the residents are members of "The Mob", a performance-artist collective who specializes in staging elaborate flash-mob shows and then uploading them to YouTube. The impending ouster forces the group to focus their energies on statement-driven art and get the wider community on their side.

Yes, it's another "Let's Dance to Save Our Home/Club/Youth Center" movie. And, wouldn't you know it? The Mob's spunky new member Emily (Kathryn McCormick) is actually Anderson's daughter! And she's fallen for lead dancer Sean (Ryan Guzman), a Big Dreamer from the Wrong Side of the Tracks who works at one of Anderson's hotels! Sean keeps Emily's secret from the rest of the group, but his best friend Eddy (Misha Gabriel) stumbles on a rehearsal video that ends with the two lovebirds spilling the beans.

Eddy makes the video public, tearing the group apart on the eve of the big board meeting (or some such event). I won't spoil whether or not Emily and Sean's relationship survives, or if Sean and Eddy reconcile their damaged lifelong friendship, or if the money-hungry mayor has a change of heart during The Mob's spectacular "Save our City from the Squares" pop-up party and winds up doing a lame middle-aged-white-guy dance amidst kids half-mockingly cheering him on.

It would be criminal to rob you of that gripping, Hitchcock-ian suspense.

I will say that my wife and I talked through ninety percent of the dialogue scenes. We missed absolutely nothing pertinent, and even made up games for ourselves that were far more entertaining than anything happening on the screen. Games such as:

"Where's Moose?" Fans of the Step Up series know and love its single consistently recurring character, Moose (Adam Sevani). He began as the second film's awkward sidekick, and has matured into a Dark Knight-like hip-hop messiah--swooping in at the last minute to help Sean and Eddy wreck Anderson's plans. As Revolution trudged along in search of life, the hope that Moose was lurking around every corner became a bulwark against pressing "Stop".

"You Can Say Anything To Me While Dirty Dancing" Maybe Revolution's writers figured no one would actually see their movie. How else to explain the outright theft of two beloved romantic-movie classics? Early on, we see that Sean lives with his older, single-mom sister. She's grumpy and doesn't like the irresponsible influence he has on her daughter. I kept waiting for Sean to make a kick boxing reference. And don't get me started on Peter Gallagher: he's one "Baby in the corner" gag away from actually being Jerry Orbach in this film.*

"Maybe This Song Won't Suck" The repetitiveness of the rest of the movie could be to blame, but there wasn't a single tune that resonated with us. The flash-mob sequences ranged from ridiculously inventive to just plain ridiculous (none of these public places has on-duty security or a nearby police force?); sadly, the music was unremarkable through and through. You'd think a movie based on the hyper-energized Miami music scene would pop off the screen, but, in comparison, it sounds like the masters were mistakenly swapped with the latest Twilight soundtrack.

"That Dude Looks Weeeeird!" It took a couple minutes to realize that Misha Gabriel wasn't Elijah Wood on steroids. But once that thought popped into our heads, it wouldn't be un-popped. We also enjoyed the return of Chadd Smith as one of Moose's NYC dance crew. His robot moves are so unnaturally awesome that I either demand to see a birth certificate or a manufacturer's warrantee. The next movie, if there is one, needs to focus on this character looking for love and/or that ever-elusive emotion chip.

Were it not for these distractions, Step Up: Revolution would have been an unendurable nightmare of boredom. Worse yet, the filmmakers pander to the lowest-common denominator of youth culture. At one point, The Mob accuses Anderson of being an "evil, corrupt businessman", when we're given no evidence of his being anything but a businessman. Yes, he's out of touch with the community whose buildings he's purchasing, but he's never seen murdering anyone or greasing wheels to get his way.

To add irony to insult, our heroic rap-robats sell out at the first opportunity. At the end of the movie, after everyone's made nice, one of Anderson's clients steps in to offer Sean and his crew a lucrative contract as Nike pitch-men. Without hesitation, Eddy asks, "Where do I sign?" Do you think the next Step Up picture will take place at a Chinese sneaker factory? Neither do I.

These movies used to be cheesy fun, mixed with impressive choreography and songs that I could at least remember a day later. The latest Step Up entry proves that a revolution was both unnecessary and counter-productive.

*Though he does get to deliver Revolution's biggest howler: as a compromise to outright shooting down Emily's dreams, Anderson says, "If you're not a professional dancer by the end of the summer, you'll come work for me back in Cleveland."