The multitude of Step Up Revolution trailers popping up recently leaves more than a few groaning, "There's another one?" And with the reputation of sequels, particularly on a movie that wasn't exactly Oscar material to begin with, the haters could possibly have a reason to sound off.
But not this time.
Directed by Scott Speer, the fourth installment of the popular franchise may not win any major awards in the acting and script department, but the dancing is definitely the most inventive out of all four. As with most films of this genre, the choreography and dance performances are usually what save it. The innovation in this movie, however, takes that redemption to a whole new level, sometimes making one forget that the actors and story are pretty much on par with the other three.
While the second and third films somewhat carry a narrative thread from the previous, this one starts over in Miami, with only one character (Jason, played by Stephen "tWitch" Boss) returning for a major role. Luke (Ryan Guzman) and Eddy (Misha Gabriel) are the co-founders of a dance crew called The Mob, who record and post their extravagant and borderline illegal flash mobs in hopes of winning the latest YouTube contest by receiving the most views.
But that's not all; it wouldn't be a Step Up without a love story. Enter Emily (Kathryn McCormick) who immediately catches Luke's eye and just happens to win the trust of him and his crew, regardless of the fact that she's the daughter of a rich developer (Peter Gallagher) coldly bent on leveling the crew's neighborhood for some high-rise condos. Only Luke knows this important family tie, a secret which predictably leads to a crucial turning point later in the story.
The impending destruction of their lifelong homes creates a new reason to dance, one which transcends the usual money-respect-advancement cycle that typically spurs fictional crews to strut their moves. Using dance as a way to amplify their seemingly insignificant voices, The Mob stages its usual complex routine but tacks on a message in the form of digital or visual art. It's like an Occupy-style demonstration that its founders wish had happened.
Later on, secrets are revealed, trust is broken and relationships take a hit. Can dance mend all hurts? Will this kinetic performing art soften the heart of the greedy corporate man in a suit? No spoilers here, but you can probably guess the ending; anyone watching can guess each curve of the narrative.
And the only things more predictable than the story are the mediocre, uninspiring lines delivered by a mostly one-dimensional cast. But who seriously walks into this movie expecting magic on the acting side?
Dance is what everyone will be talking about, and the choreographers have really, ahem, stepped it up this time. In returning to the original concept of combining unlikely genres, choreographers Jamal Sims, Christopher Scott, Travis Wall, and Chuck Maldonado create six flash mobs with differing movement vocabulary, some contemporary dances, and coordinate various individual freestyles. The story may be easy to foretell, but the dance sequences pull out many exhilarating surprises.
Moments reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil burst on screen, and contemporary ballet briefly shows its face amid the street dance. The ever-evolving styles of hip-hop all have time in the spotlight, and more genres blend and meld together like flavors in a pot. Dancers move robotically in business suits, flow as works of art, and pound the pavement in aggression.
Carrying on the legacy of its predecessor, this film is in 3D, however, the upgrade is only somewhat worth it during two of the dance sequences. Thankfully, the film doesn't contain as many gratuitous effects as the previous. The 3D seems to serve more to put the viewer more into the action of the dancing rather than to create flashy moments.
Venue can make or break a flash mob and this film brings site-specific choreography front and center. From popping on top of cars during traffic to gliding down the escalator of a corporate building to running down the sides of stacked freight containers with bungee cords, the choreographers move beyond the traditional underground battle clubs, of which we've all seen our share.
That ending flash mob at the shipyard raises so much excitement that it also still manages to raise a question out of an apparently implausible plot. Can we really bring change through the power of dance?
Who knows? Maybe the Occupy movement should've hired a choreographer.
◊ Read our interview with choreographers Christopher Scott and Misha Gabriel here.
◊ Here's the official trailer for Step Up Revolution:
And here's the cast of Step Up Revolution performing on Ellen: