Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Impressive Dance Moves Do Not Make A Compelling Film With Step Up 3-D.

The Good: Amazing spectacle.
The Bad: Entirely melodramatic, Frequently stiff acting, Predictable character arcs, Rather light on substantive plot.
The Basics: Packed with the usual conceits of obvious romantic subplots, clunky acting and an overblown competition sense of melodrama, Step Up 3-D only has amazing dance routines going for it.

There are only a few genres of film that I have no concrete experience with, but I shall begin my review of Step Up 3-D with the admission that the dance contest genre is one that I have had exceptionally little experience with. I knew enough about the principles of the genre to recognize that Dance Flick had little to do with actually satirizing the genre and more to do with lampooning people for looking different. I had not seen any of the Step Up movies, so my review of Step Up 3-D is based upon a very pure viewing of only the new sequel. And all Step Up 3-D has going for it is the spectacle.

For those unfamiliar with my reviews, spectacle counts for one of the ten points I rate on. A perfect film scores three for plot, three for character, three for acting and one for the technical merits of the film. I mention this at the outset as well so that those unfamiliar with how all movies I rate compete on a level playing field will understand that it takes more to impress me than lights and movement. I'm not a "shiny objects amuse me" type person, but after watching Step Up 3-D at a screening, Step Up 3-D is only perfect for those who are that type of person. The dance routines are impressive, but the plot is predictable, the characters are virtually impossible to become emotionally invested in and the acting is frequently awkward or painful to watch. The principles who dominate Step Up 3-D might be great dancers, but that does not make them impressive actors.

The Maryland School Of The Arts has an impressive dance program and their dancers compete in Paris as part of a dance competition there. But when Moose, a Freshman at the school, is left behind in Paris, he takes a look at the underground dance scene in Paris. After witnessing just what the Paris underground is doing and getting a de facto invitation/challenge, Moose returns to the United States where he convinces Luke, the leader of the school's dance group that they must compete in the international underground competition. Forced to come up with a completely new and original routine, Luke looks to Natalie to save the school from embarrassment at the competition.

Natalie has the moves, but lacks the confidence, but soon she and Luke are developing the skills and the routine for the dance group to return to Paris and take on the world in the underground competition.

First, let me say right off, I admire the athleticism and talent of dancers. My sister is a dancer, she teaches dance and I have been amazed when I have seen any of her troupe's perform. And I can recognize that young people competing in dance competitions learn the same set of skills that other team sports teach and develop. All of these are fine attributes of dancers, dance routines and the genre of movies that explore them. The structure of dance competitions can also be a valuable social structure for at-risk youth, though the extreme nature of these teams (or troupes) can result in essentially a gang mentality. There's a difference between art and production and changing the world and the melodramatic way that characters, most notably Luke and Moose, speak of the power of dance makes much of Step Up 3-D worth rolling one's eyes at. Young people aren't going to change the world through dance. They might impress viewers, they might wow each other, but they aren't curing poverty (physical or intellectual), advancing science or producing a lasting product the way that characters like Luke, Natalie and Moose insist they are.

They hype around the dance routines and the importance of what this means to the youth involved makes those who have a sense of the real world quickly disgusted not just because of the distorted perspective, but because of the terribly frequent repetition of the concept. Natalie, for example, comes to insist that much of what she is best at is dance and that causes Luke to believe in her. But far more than her dance abilities, it is the confidence with which she speaks and the force of personality that allows Luke to believe her that works in her favor. So, when she continually insists all she has is dance, the viewer wants to shake her and yell "If you applied that same energy to something else, you'd be great at that, too!"

This is where the character problems start. Moose only believes in himself on the dance floor and Natalie has confidence that she is only able to express through dance, despite the fact that she has a Hollywood type beauty (actress Sharni Vinson is an Australian model and actress) that must have gotten her attention in other ways prior. The characters then become an annoying combination of whiny and confident that is just dull to watch. In fact, only Luke seems to approach everything with a sense of being masterful at all things he attempts and that's just annoying because he comes across as a heavy in many scenes and the viewer wants him to have a greater sense of conflict. Instead, he just comes across as cocky.

Step Up 3-D follows a pretty predictable sports-style plot. There is an adversarial team that denigrates the Maryland School Of The Arts team and seems to be the real threat to them winning the underground contest. When the movie shifts from Moose to Natalie, the movie might as well be a dance version of Rocky with Natalie training with Luke and the group. In this comparison, Luke would be Natalie's Adrian and from the outset, it is pretty obvious that Natalie and Luke will find a way to be together because it is simply That Kind Of Movie.

But to reiterate, the dance moves are absolutely stunning in Step Up 3-D and the movie makes good use of the 3-D by enhancing scenes with more than just people flying through the air. Laser lights, smoke, dust and similar aspects that add depth to the screen help make the three dimensional effects of the movie truly stunning. The dancers know their routines, the sense of style is amazing and the spectacle is, well, spectacular.

But beyond that, Step Up 3-D is in every way a failure. The stretches between dance routines are boring and the ultimate effect is a giant episode of any number of the current dance competition shows on television that one is forced to pay $10 to watch. It's not worth that, especially when the market is already crowded with similar works.

For other competition films, please check out my reviews of:
Whip It
Million Dollar Baby
The Blind Side


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page on the subject for an organized listing of them!

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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