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Theatrical Review: STEP UP 3D

Kate Erbland

by: Kate Erbland
August 6th, 2010

Rating: 2.5/5

Writers: Amy Andelson and Emily Meyer (screenplay), Duane Adler (characters)
Director: Jon Chu
Cast: Rick Malambri, Adam G. Sevani, Sharni Vinson, Alyson Stoner, Keith Stallworth
Studio: Summit and Touchstone

If you have seen a STEP UP film before, you have seen STEP UP 3D. There is a mismatched romance (usually, this mismatch has roots in financial disparity). There are battles to fight with rival dance crews. There are misunderstandings and lies and twists. There are deep, penetrating looks that top off intense, sexy dance moves. There is a lot of stuff about being yourself and following your dreams and the meaning of dance. And it’s all inherently ridiculous and often somewhat bizarre. And I love it. The three films that form the STEP UP franchise are the cinematic equivalent of my favorite kind of movie theater candy. It is the Bunch-a-Crunch of film series – sweet and irresistible and bad for you, but so delicious that you can only feel the tiniest twinge of guilt after consuming it. That twinge can be silenced with more Bunch-a-Crunch. You can shake the guilt with more dance moves.

This entry has moved us out of our familiar territory – no more Baltimore, now we’re in an Empire State of mind. STEP UP 2: THE STREETS’ memorable and charming supporting character, Moose (Adam G. Sevani) has decamped from Maryland and is starting his first year at NYU. Moose has forgotten dancing, favoring a more straight-arrow life as an engineering major. Which is why it’s so unfortunate that on his first day in the city, Moose gets shoved into a dance battle. His opponent? Kid Darkness (best nickname, dance or otherwise, ever). Moose battles the Kid and wins, and that’s when he gets picked up by Luke (Rick Malambri), captain of his own crew, determined to mentor Moose, get the girl, win the battle, save the day, live his dreams, and look damn good doing it.

Kid Darkness is, unfortunately enough, a member of the Samurai crew. Luke’s crew? The Pirates. Yes, this is all really just an extended pirates versus ninjas dance battle. Go with it. Luke and his crew live and work in “the Vault” - a dream-crafted, permanent summer camp of marvels for dancers. The bottom floor is a dance club (although, forgive me for a moment here, there are moments during which it seems to be, ahem, a different kind of club). The rest of the space is the loft-style home of the Pirates. But despite the fact that we are supposed to believe (and, in fact, it is a huge plot point for the motivations of the entire film) that the Pirates are broke and within inches of losing their home, the place is tricked out beyond belief. There’s a room with a wall of boomboxes, a room lined entirely with cushions (with its own foam jump pit), a room with a wall of the hottest kicks on the planet (Nike Dunks make frequent appearances throughout STEP UP 3D), and Luke has the best video equipment you can pick up at your local Apple store (I refuse to speak of Luke’s filmmaking endeavors, including his Pirate-based documentary BORN FROM A BOOMBOX, the title says it all). Yet we are expected to believe that the Pirates are a band of nomads, poor kids scraping by with just their dreams to feed them. Go with that – suspend your disbelief for the entertainment value of the spectacle. Just watch the dancing.

The Pirates are gearing up for the World Jam – the biggest dance battle the world has ever seen (please, however, note that it is the First Annual World Jam). Luke finding Moose - it’s fate. If you are meant to be a Pirate, Luke will find you. Which doesn’t quite explain how he picks up his own love interest, Natalie (Sharni Vinson), but that’s another story entirely. Winning the World Jam (to save the Vault) and beating the Samurai (their evil leader, Julian, has major beef with the Pirates) takes precedent over everything – even Moose attending his classes.

But as the dance routines in the STEP UP series have gotten bigger and flashier, the stories have gone the opposite way, getting looser and more incoherent with each entry into the franchise. STEP UP 3D sticks to convention and tradition, but still throws in a twist or two for shock and change, just giving us predictable schtick. Also, and this may be refutable, is it possible that lead Rick Malambri can’t dance? He is most certainly nice to look at, but ol’ “Captain Luke” spends a curious amount of time standing in the back of his Pirate pack, looking smoky and brooding. He busts out some moves in the final battle, but a loose-hipped Channing Tatum or a cleverly focused Robert Hoffman he is not. And the 3D? Nothing but gimmick – looks fine, adds nothing. But make no mistake, the routines and battles in STEP UP 3D are breathtaking in the most entertaining and fun way possible. If you can get through a full dance sequence in the film without cracking a smile, you’ve got a black heart you might want to look into.

But STEP UP 3D serves its ultimate purpose with gusto - it’s wish fulfillment for STEP UP fans. The film includes both a “hot” romance between leads and more time dedicated to STEP UP 2: THE STREETS show-stealer (and –stopper), Adam G. Sevani’s Moose. There are callbacks to the first film (oh, hello, Camille, who is somehow both Channing Tatum’s foster sister from STEP UP and Moose’s best friend) and the second (two words: rain dance). And, not to spoil anything, there are more than just a couple of familiar faces in STEP UP 3D. It’s can’t-miss entertainment for STEP UP fans and dance fans, but if you’re looking for finely-crafted art, get to steppin’.


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  • drewtinnin

    I want a fake BORN FROM THE BOOMBOX movie poster now!!! Great review! You're hilarious. I love these kinds of films too, and how it's always about two world's colliding on the dance floor and in the real world – the best example still being Rae Dawn Chong and her entire ballet company almost getting the crap beat out of them by “breakin' thugs” in BEAT STREET!

  • drewtinnin

    There also needs to be a Scott Pilgrim/Step Up mashup featuring the samurai crew and the 7 evil ex's!

  • http://fleshlight.vox.com Michel Cromwell

    Also agree with #1. Every single time First Blood is on TV I watch it (which has been happening a lot on AMC). Just a damn good movie. Really original protagonist and some really good antagonists too.

  • http://fleshlights.multiply.com/ Kevin Guitano

    The tile says Eat, Pray, and LOVE? Although no commas it has the “WORD” LOVE in the title.CURIOUS… because the movie is NOT about LOVE…I WONDER WHY?

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