Up until the new film Step Up Revolution, I had not seen any of the films in the lucrative Step Up franchise, but I am confident I can summarize the plot in all four movies based solely on the trailer for the first installment. A privileged girl who lives by rules and structure is introduced to an economically challenged boy who hates rules and structure. Through dance, they fall in love and their two styles come together to create a unique form of movement that allows them fully express their feelings. Any supporting plot points are inconsequential, because ultimately the Step Up movies are all about the dancing.
At least that is the impression I get from Step Up Revolution, a film that has some of the most visually imaginative dance sequences that have ever appeared in a narrative feature, but nothing even remotely interesting to say. At one point one of the characters challenges the others to stop dancing “just for fun” and start using their skills to make a difference. Any attempts to make a thematic statement or do anything interesting in the context of the characters different social statuses is undercut by the apparently insatiable desire to just dance.
This installment in the franchise takes place in Miami where an impromptu dance crew called “The Mob” has been wreaking fabulously choreographed havoc on the streets and boardwalks. The initial mission of “The Mob” is purely financial as they hope their flash mobs will earn enough YouTube hits to win a contest for $100,000. However, things change when luxury hotel magnate Bill Anderson announces plans to buy out the Miami slum neighborhood where most members of “The Mob” reside and redevelop it.
The more intimate story in the film focuses on the blossoming love between Mr. Anderson’s daughter Emily (Kathryn McCormick) and leader of “The Mob” Sean (Ryan Guzman). Emily is struggling to get accepted into a prestigious dance company because she lacks originality and Sean is searching for a way to make dance a way of life instead of his menial day job at one of Mr. Anderson’s restaurants. They use dance to explore their romance and further their secret love affair.
The marketing behind this dance movie franchise frequently compares the story to “Romeo and Juliet,” but comparing Step Up Revolutions to Shakespeare would be like calling Alvin and the Chipmunks “Kafkaesque.” Each of the character motivations in the movie is completely muddled and confusing. “The Mob” finds out Emily’s identity and responds by trying to ruin her life, despite the fact that she is going out of her way to help them. Mr. Anderson is portrayed as one of the most cartoonish “evil corporate villains” by Peter Gallagher, yet we are still supposed to sympathize with his parental struggles. “The Mob” spends the majority of the running time fighting against corporatization of their neighborhood, but end up all taking jobs with one of the biggest corporations on Earth.
Structurally the movie is a total mess as well. It has elements like a heist movie and even a lengthy Snatch-like introduction scene (that curiously come s about 45 minutes in) wherein each character is given a specialty (instead of “Munitions” it’s “Parkour”). At other times the movie feels a lot like a simple romantic comedy with the unlikely central couple trying to adapt in one another’s worlds, surrounded by comical friends. It also feels a little bit like the television show “America’s Got Talent” with “The Mob” representing one of the acts who has to better themselves each time out in order to continue getting voted through.
First-time director Scott Speer and screenwriter Amanda Brody have very different ideas of what constitutes humor than a viewer like me does. For instance, the idea of an older gentleman in a suit trying to dance like a young person is apparently funny enough to break the rule of three. The real humor in the film came from the laughably out of touch portrayal of a low-income Miami neighborhood. The area that is frequently called a “slum” by rich and poor alike looks like it was produced in an MTV studio with sterile set pieces and no character so stricken with poverty that they cannot afford a Macbook.
The only legitimate reason for anyone to see Step Up Revolution is the dance sequences. The choreography by Chuck Maldondo, Christopher Scott, Jamal Sims, and Travis Wall is inventive and fun that are supported by some great costumes by Rebecca Hofherr. One particular scene in an art gallery is almost worth the price of admission in and of itself, although the exuberance of “The Mob” in that moment makes no sense in the context of the narrative. When I was younger I used to fast-forward through the Disney movie Newsies just to get to the dance scenes and Step Up Revolutions might actually be considered enjoyable if viewed in such a way.
Bottom Line: Step Up Revolution has some visually inventive dance sequences, but nothing remotely interesting to say.