It may be shameful but it’s no secret that I’m a fan of the STEP UP series. It’s like the DEATH WISH series in many ways. Okay, in only one way: I like all of them. The first one is enjoyable dumb melodrama, then the second is a surprisingly good and clever sequel, and the third is even better. Part 4, REVOLUTION, was not quite as good but I liked it, it had people dancing on bouncing cars and a ridiculous plot about using flash mob dancing as a tool of political protest and at the end Peter Gallagher thanked the guy for practically humping his daughter on stage in front of him. Because the transcendence of dance or whatever.
I’m happy to report that I liked part 5, STEP UP ALL IN, a little better than the last one, although admittedly they sorta cheat and do it by rehashing parts 2 and 3 and bringing back favorite characters for more than just cameos this time.
The original STEP UP starred a pre-mainstream-acceptance Channing Tatum, but each of the sequels has had an increasingly bland male lead. For the first time the previous chapter’s bland dude, Sean (Ryan Guzman), returns as the lead, but this time they team him with the much more charismatic Andie (Briana Evigan, SORORITY ROW), not seen in the series since she was the star of STEP UP 2 THE STREETS (the only really female-centric chapter, even though all of them are either directed or written by women). Sean and his crew The Mob moved from Miami to L.A. after getting to do a Nike commercial at the end of the last one, but since then they’ve had trouble finding work and they all give up and leave, so he has to put together a new crew to enter yet another big dance competition, this one for a VH1 game show called The Vortex. It’s a big glitzy Vegas show with a pop star host (Izabella Miko, Athena from CLASH OF THE TITANS) who seems like she was kidnapped from the world of HUNGER GAMES.
Luckily Sean knows everybody’s favorite STEP UP character, the gawky, Michael Jackson influenced Moose (Adam Sevani, who only had a cameo in the last one), and Moose calls Andie and other people they met in part 2 such as The Santiago Twins (Facundo and Martin Lombard), Jenny Kido (Mari Koda) and Vladd (Chadd Smith), the guy that does all the robot dancing and who for all we know is an actual robot.
Now everybody’s out of school so instead of the dance battle interfering with studying for the big test their responsibility is their jobs. How can I work on my dance routine when I gotta be engineering at the engineering factory?
The villain this time is not a stuckup teacher or parent, it’s just the head of a rival crew called The Grim Knights. Jasper (Stephen “Stev-O” Jones) is a good villain because as soon as I saw him I hated him. He looks like a lost Wahlberg brother, a cocky little guy wearing a Starter jacket and a sideways “C.R.E.A.M.” hat, both a little too big for him. After getting a gig that the Mob were auditioning for he runs into them at a club, makes fun of them about it and makes possible racial comments, so Sean takes the bait and there is a dance battle.
So The Mob does their thing and they’re great and everything… but then the Grim Knights take their turn and they are clearly way better. This is a subjective, artistic form of competition and yet the outcome is so cut and dry that not one person questions it. The rest of the Mob just yell at Sean for embarrassing them and leave. In the next scene he walks up just as they’re out the door with their bags to leave town! This happens again later in the movie with his replacement crew (admittedly they’re leaving a hotel, so it makes more sense) and it made me wonder if this was something that happened in all the other STEP UPs too and I just didn’t pick up on it. Look for packed bags if you’re trying to make a drinking game or something.
There’s alot of good dance routines in this one, though nothing as memorably gimmicky as, say, the one in the rain in 2 or the one with the light up suits in 3. That’s actually kind of a surprise since director Trish Sie comes from doing videos for that “OK Go” band that is known only for gimmicky videos. The new crew (with the mystifying name “LMNTRIX”) do a mad scientist themed one that’s pretty good. There’s a back-and-forth inside a boxing ring. At the end they do one with really lame (but elaborate) steam punk costumes. Moose does a pretty good solo dance in a casino or hotel bar. Take note of the song because they get him to dance by saying “It’s your song!” and I have trouble believing that meandering, merely adequate song would be “your song” to anybody.
There was a bit of a scare when I noticed that the poster, the tv ads and the IMDb tech specs didn’t say anything about 3D, but they’re just being humble I guess because it is showing in 3D. I didn’t get to see part 3D as the Lord intended but I did see REVOLUTION, and this one overall uses it better in my opinion. It seems like they might’ve studied how 3 was shot. They’re very conscious about having dancers moving toward the camera, with hand movements projecting towards us, not cutting too fast, occasionally popping a balloon or throwing something at us or having smoke around or something. It’s the first 3D movie I’ve seen in quite some time where I was still noticing it was 3D at the end.
It was fun to see at the opening night evening show. Admittedly the theater wasn’t full, but you could tell by the giggling which characters the girls were charmed by (Moose). It’s kinda funny that they always put the emphasis on a hunky traditionally handsome guy and have him take his shirt off and stuff, but this unscientific sampling tells me that that’s not what most of the fans are interested in.
Then again maybe they like the other dudes too and they’re just being on the down low about it. Dancing isn’t always about fucking, of course, but there’s definitely a sexual edge to alot of this stuff, the athletic bodies moving, the eye contact, the female leads getting progressively more lusty in each chapter, in my opinion, and that’s a compliment. But I still liked going back to the more tomboyish Andie. The last two were twigs compared to her, she’s thicker and hippier and she flaunts it, almost always exposing her bellybutton. I’m not sure if she meant to share her camel toe with us in 3D, but it happens. She’s no Sharni Vinson, but I like her for her attitude. She’s cockier and more human.
Both leads are missing the characters they fell in love with in previous chapters, so the movie sticks them together instead. But Moose is still with his girlfriend Camille (Alyson Stoner), who has been in every other STEP UP (and the only character from part 1 to be in any sequels). She’s involved in some pretty good (and possibly unintentionally funny) relationship moments, but it’s a little sad that she’s just kind of the house wife now and is only seen dancing briefly in a crowd shot. She’s never been a part of the competitions, but Stoner is a real dancer and one half of the duet that Vulture justifiably chose as the best STEP UP dance sequence on an otherwise outrageous list. I wonder if she was overlooked by the screenplay or if she just didn’t want to dance in this one?
This is the kind of shit these movies have made me care about.
As much as I enjoyed STEP UP ALL IN, I went home and put in the STEP UP 3 blu-ray (sometimes a man’s gotta own STEP UP 3 on blu-ray) and it really reminded me how much better it is than all the other ones. The dancing is so good and it’s shot so beautifully and all of the dance scenes take place in really different locations with different themes and gimmicks. This one I think could do with some more novel locations for dance sequences – a hotel basement and bar are not the most exciting settings. A carnival ride was a good one though, and I like that the guy turned it on while they were standing on it. It didn’t kill them but you know it’s gotta be against regulations.
Anyway, here are some suggestions for future locations to set dance battles:
American Ninja Warrior set
maximum security prison
bloody cockfighting ring in back of Mexican bar
Chuck E. Cheese
rope bridge in the Himalayas
2 and 3 made good use of water, this one had some fire and some sand. I think they need to use the element of air. Technically they did use it in part 3’s blowing-Slurpees-into-the-fan scene, but that was out of competition. I would like to see a dance done in front of giant fans with their hair blowing all over the place and articles of clothing and accessories flying off of them in 3D.
Also they’ve danced in the rain, time to dance in snow. They’re throwing snowballs, busting out of snowmen, sliding down hills, rolling across igloos, skating on frozen lakes, riding on Yetis, you name it.
But ALL IN proves that the characters somehow matter more than the gimmicks. Here’s a new way that the large set of characters comes into play. In part 1 we first met Camille as the foster sister of Channing Tatum’s character Tyler. She’s not part of the dance recital or anything, but in one scene she jokes around and dances with him. She’s not in part 2, but in that one we meet Andie as a family friend and neighbor of Tyler who considers him pretty much her big brother. She becomes friends with Moose, and then in part 3 Camille is re-introduced as Moose’s best friend since childhood and now girlfriend. Now for the first time we see Andie and Camille cross paths, and they do seem to know each other, but it’s not really mentioned that based on the information we have they must’ve grown up together and been like sisters.
It’s as complicated as the FAST AND THE FURIOUS series. I went back through my previous reviews and I noticed that I mention THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS a bunch but I’ve never really gone into what the two series have in common. Both started with a pretty normal formula movie, but then in unlikely sequels developed a perfect balance of sincere melodrama and knowing absurdity. They’re not self parodies, they take their plots and characters seriously over all, but they’re joyfully unbound by reality. They both have ever-growing ensemble casts of returning characters, many of them non-actors, and of various races and nationalities. They both seem very heartfelt in their themes of creating families, loyalty, and living for your passion, whether that means “living life a quarter mile at a time” or being “born from a boombox.”
I guess another way it’s like FAST AND FURIOUS is that it builds up this cast of mostly one-dimensional but somehow lovable characters and it’s hard to really express to an outsider how their likability mixes with the tacky music, clothing, sets and ridiculousness into an appealing mix. Therefore this review is probly completely impenetrable, for which I apologize. I think the best thing to do is just dive in and watch one of them and if you like it you will know to watch the rest of them.
Bringing back Evigan as Andie is a particularly FAST AND FURIOUS move. She hadn’t been seen or mentioned since part 2 and is more of an actress than a dancer, I never expected her to come back. Now I’d love to see part 3’s Vinson (also the Final Girl of YOU’RE NEXT) come back, but considering the shrinking box office for these I’m afraid our only chance at another one is if they convince Tatum and his love interest/now wife Jenna Dewan to return for a final chapter.
Or I guess they could get away with STEP UP VS. YOU GOT SERVED. Or the rebootening where they travel back in time and meet a new actor playing a young version of Channing Tatum but Channing Tatum cameos as a wise older Channing Tatum to teach them a couple moves and philosophy.
Or add The Rock.
Whatever they do I’m gonna go ahead and predict that if there’s a part 6 I will watch it.
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.