Okay, I know I’m not supposed to like a movie like this, I know I’m supposed to feel guilty if I get any pleasure from it, but I am a man with honor and I cannot tell a lie and all that shit so I gotta tell you that I fucking loved the cheesy dance competition movie STEP UP 3. Returning-from-part-2 director Jon M. Chu steps up (all puns are coincidental) the energy and inventiveness like he did before, but this time about tenfold. It’s stupid and hilarious and stylish and there’s more great dancing just in the deleted scenes than there was in all of part 1.
Of course I saw STEP UP standard-3 as opposed to the STEP UP 3D that it was in theaters. And never before have I so regretted missing a 3D movie. I actually kinda wanted to at the time because I figured a dance movie in 3D would be cool and I heard it was, but since I hadn’t watched the other ones I didn’t realize how enjoyably goofy they are or how much it doesn’t matter that I didn’t see the other ones.
As you know, I prefer the unfashionable approach to 3D where you, like, take advantage of it being in 3D. This seems like it might’ve been the best example of that ever because it has bubbles, balloons, smoke, confetti. Dancers blow chalk dust at us, splash water across a flooded dance floor, pour Icees onto giant fans, throw light-up darts. The three “battle” sequences in particular look great on blu-ray and seem perfectly designed for 3D, with the camera staying on groups of dancers for long steady takes, slowly pulling in with the dancers constantly moving toward it, reaching and kicking and flipping toward the audience, often with one central dancer emphasized with layers of others behind them. A guy stands on his head and then drops toward the camera. A guy gets lifted and strikes a Superman pose with his fist (what would’ve been) sticking out of the screen. It has everything but the little fuzzy flying guy from CAPTAIN EO.
This time they got another new white couple, the girl (Sharni Vinson) arguably even hotter than the two previous ones and the guy (Rick Malambri) even more whitebread Melrose Place type handsome while being down with hip hop culture. His name is Luke, he’s the son of dancer parents who’s making a documentary about dancers, he speaks mostly in exposition, but invented the term “You’re b-fab – born from a boombox.” He leads a dance crew called The Pirates and a sort of dancer commune running out of a building he owns called The Vault – a dancer’s dream rehearsal space located above a popular dance club that is supposed to pay the rent… but of course it’s failing, and the snooty rich kid ex-Pirate Julian who leads the Samurai crew is threatening to foreclose on it, so the Pirates have to win the World Jam to save the place. Fuck “The Streets,” man. The Streets is for babies. World Jam is what you gotta win.
(Note: Julian was kicked out of the Pirates for throwing a battle. That’s gotta be more complicated than throwing a fight, so I wonder how that works. I would like to see that in flashback. What kind of stupid moves did he have to do to purposely lose? That could be a real funny scene.)
The Vault has several gimmicky rooms – one with an entire wall made of boomboxes, another that’s like a trophy room for limited edition Nikes, and one with padded curved walls and a hole in the floor full of nerf bricks so you can run up the walls and flip into the ground. Like an MTV Cribs version of the plastic ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese.
Those are all cool rooms that I would encourage all rich people to build for themselves, but I wouldn’t blame you if you did an exact replica of the Scarface palm tree room instead. That’s probly what I would do. I’d just invite people over and see how long it takes before they say anything about it.
The girl is Natalie, she’s a mysterious out-of-towner who looks kinda like Elektra with a little Maggie Q. She ends up training with Luke at The Vault which she assumes will take place in one of those cool rooms. Instead they go on the roof and do a bunch of parkour! In a deleted scene they also had an emotional capoeria fight there. So obviously this is a good movie.
Part 3 abandons parts 1-2’s location, the Maryland School of the Arts, for NYU. This is a natural progression after part 2’s fixation on breakdancing, which was obviously born (from a boombox) in New York. The movies are connected by the character Moose (Adam Sevani). He was the geeky sidekick last time and now is a bigger character. He comes to NYU with his childhood best friend Camille (Alyson Stoner), who looked familiar but I didn’t realize it was because she was Channing Tatum’s character’s foster sister in part 1. I didn’t pick up on it until I read IMDb message board people complaining that the movie didn’t explain the connection. God damn it STEP UP 3, you’re too subtle. This means Moose and Tyler Gage probly even know each other, but it doesn’t ever come up. You just gotta notice it, or read it on IMDb. I like that.
This has by far the best and highest amount of dancing in the trilogy. Of course there are tons of dance rehearsal montages, but also several full-fledged numbers. A couple of them even have names that slam onto the screen, like “The Battle of Red Hook.”
That one almost has a Thunderdome type of atmosphere. The judge has an eyepatch and bangs an evil wizard type staff against the ground (and of course points it at us). Another battle is martial arts themed and looks like it could almost be the place where they had the Kumite in BLOODSPORT. There’s a Fred Astaire type number with Moose and his girl dancing down a block in one continuous shot, interacting with different people, a taxi, a swinging gate, steps, garbage can lids, a lady who gets mad and sprays them with a hose, some kids’ scooters that they steal, a tree, etc. There’s even a dance version of a “guy gets attacked in a public restroom” scene where Moose is taking a piss and a dance-ninja sneaks up and pulls open his jacket to reveal built-in speakers.
Another action movie parallel: the special move. Luke and Natalie got an impossible dance move that they’ve been working on that they’re not sure they’re ready for, you forget about it and then they bust it out at the crucial moment during the final battle.
It’s hard not to think about Michael Jackson sometimes while watching part 2 and especially part 3. Not just because CAPTAIN EO is the only other 3D dance movie I know of, but because the choreography of these big group numbers seems heavily influenced by his videos, because the character Moose often does Michael’s moves, because the kids at MSA dance to a song that sounds like the introduction to “The Way You Make Me Feel,” and because this one uses alot of whooshing sound effects for the body movements just like I always loved in Michael’s videos.
I kept thinking Michael probly would have loved this. The climax even has the Pirates dancing in light-up suits, I would’ve figured he’d be into that even if I didn’t know he was planning something like that for the This Is It shows. Then I read this interview where I learned that The Battle of Red Hook was filmed the day after Michael died. They were all very depressed until Chu played some MJ and all the dancers and crew and everybody got so into dancing to it that that became a ritual before filming from that point on.
Too bad they couldn’t use those songs in the movie, though. I’m too old for this shit. I think this one does it better than part 2, there’s a chaotic sort of energy to these clankety mega-mixes they use. They got a little remixed Busta Rhymes in there and stuff. But for the most part this music needs to get off my lawn.
I like how this movie treats meticulously choreographed dance numbers as if they’re just something you bust out if you’re skilled enough. They’re probly supposed to be preparing off screen, but you just see them fucking around, then all the sudden they’re doing these long, complex pieces all in unison. And let’s say one of them accidentally breaks a pipe and causes the dance floor to fill up with water, don’t worry, they’ll know how to keep going.
The filmatists keep some of the corny cliche parts of the formula, like they have another scene where a character takes another character to the roof top where they go to be alone and overlook the city (“Where are you taking me?”). They got another friend who feels abandoned because her friend is spending all his time dancing behind her back (coulda done without that subplot). And another pop ballad montage of all the characters being sad and lonely in different places after a setback.
Sometimes they have the type of saccharine business you expect, but then put a joke after it. Like the scene where Camille tells Moose not to abandon his dream because he was born to dance, then some little girls walk by and yell “Give it up, you suck!” But that’s not even necessary because the corniness is part of what’s enjoyable in a movie like this. I’m not sure what the hell the non-corny version of a street dancing competition movie looks like.
I do wish they’d play up the MORTAL KOMBAT type feel slightly more by putting more emphasis on the absurd names and gimmicks of the different dancers. At the beginning they set up a feared Samurai who wears all black and is called “Kid Darkness,” but then they don’t really come back to him that much. Most of the other bad guys (and some of the good guys) you don’t really catch the names of. Like there’s an amazing robot dude on the Pirates, he’s gotta have a cool name but I don’t know what it is. Maybe they mentioned it. There’s alot of them to keep track of. There’s so many of them but they decide they still need more dancers so then there’s a FAST FIVE type of moment where they bring back the super-team from part 2 and give them an Arsenio Hall Show entrance standing posed behind a rising garage door.
One thing I noticed about these movies that’s kinda funny: poor sportsmanship. The opposing crews are always really bitter and angry toward each other. When one of them loses either they look really outraged or you don’t see their reactions. I don’t think there’s ever a BEST OF THE BEST type of moment where after it’s all over they smile or congratulate each other. That’s weird because it seems like that would fit the movie’s view of dancers being a community.
This is kinda ridiculous to get into but after seeing STEP UPs 2 & 3 I’m now really fuckin excited for GI JOE 2. I loved how ridiculous the first one was, and now they seem to be upping the ante with this too-good-to-be-true cast (The Rock, Bruce Willis, Ray Stevenson, the RZA, Walton Goggins plus returning Lee Byung-hun, Ray Park and Arnold Vosloo). I don’t know if STEP UP franchise originator/GI JOE team leader Channing Tatum was the one that recruited Jon Chu, but whoever did it knew what they were doing. With his knack for fun gimmicks, shameless straight-faced absurdity, beautiful digital cinematography and crisply staged movement of the human body that he shows in this movie I feel pretty confident he can come up with a better and/or crazier movie than Stephen Sommers did.
Unfortunately for civilization Chu doing GI JOE means somebody else has to do STEP UP 4. It might be one of his acolytes though ’cause it’s some guy who directed episodes of Chu’s web-series LXD: THE LEGION OF EXTRAORDINARY DANCERS. It’s probly too late but I got an idea they could’ve used for part 4.
Of course in the search for true greatness you’re gonna want to continue STEP UP 2 THE STREETS’s groundbreaking use of dual-purpose subtitling. That’s why I think it should be called STEP UP 4 FREEDOM. And it should be a ROCKY IV type situation where the Pirates have to battle a North Korean dance crew. You would think with all the repression over there there wouldn’t be very good North Korean breakdancers, but we would learn how Kim Jong Il had South Korean b-boys kidnapped, brainwashed and genetically enhanced to become super-dancers. And they would incorporate elements of gymnastics and ribbon dancing into their routines.
I mean I don’t want to give away the whole thing and also it is possible that that’s all I got, but please consider this idea Hollywood. I will give you my paypal. thanks
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.