I’ve seen all of the contemporaneity urban dances movies (in fact, I reviewed them all in one fell swoop), and anyone who has ever seen them must understand that it’s easy to find a modicum of guilty pleasure in them. It’s hard not to marvel at the talent on display in the electric, dazzling dance sequences. Fancy editing or no, it’s impressive how these people move and contort and throw their bodies around, and it’s difficult not to get swept up in the kinetic energy.
But there’s also the flip side to this genre: Terrible, predictable, increasingly inane plots. They’ve mined all the Karate Kid underdog inspiration out of them, and they’ve more than thoroughly explored the fish out of the dance floor story lines: There’s the poor white kid, the rich white ballet dancer, the black guy trying to make it out of the ghetto, etc. etc. ad infinitum, kill yourself (and for the record, plot-wise, I think Stomp the Yard and How She Move are the best, though it’s not exactly a high bar), and there’s really not much left to do before the inevitable reboots assault us in a couple years’ time.
The Step Up franchise is the godfather of the contemporary urban dance genre, and responsible for both the genre’s best dance sequences and the worst story lines. Going in to these movies, you’re willing to cut the narratives plenty of slack, so long as the moves pop and awe. Unfortunately, while the dance sequences have improved each time out, the plots have increasingly fizzled, an inversive struggle that’s threatened to pop at the elastic seams. The first two at least had Charming Potato, his wife, Jenna Dewan, and even Briana Evigan to fall back on — not exactly charismatic actors, but serviceable enough in these roles. And while the third film — with the help of 3D technology — easily outdistances its predecessors in terms of dance moves, it doesn’t even come close at making up for the terrible, atrocious, wood-mouthed actors or the sad, pathetic, brain-damaged kindergartner’s attempt at a story. I’d accept even a half-hearted attempt, but Amy Andelson and Emily Meyer — who must have gotten their writing credentials at the University of Phoenix preschool — can’t even provide that. It’s MSTK levels of embarrassing, clearly evidenced by the running commentary provided by the equally pathetic meathead gallery at my screening.
The major returning member from the second movie is Moose (Adam G. Sevani), the skinny curly haired kid who is not worth remembering from the second film. He’s going off to college now, opting to major in engineering and give up his dancing career. That lasts about three minutes before he inadvertently gets involved in a street dance competition before orientation starts. He impresses Luke (Rick Malambri) so much that he’s invited to join the Pirates dance squad, afer Luke suggests that Moose was “born from a boombox.” He really said that. Sadly, it’s one of the better lines. The Pirates live in a large loft above a night club, though they’re five-months in arrears on their rent and facing eviction. The plan, of course, is to win the big dance-off against their rivals, who has a mole among the Pirates, a mole (Sharni Vinson) who falls for dance philosopher Luke and his documentary filmmaking ways. Yes. He woos her with his documentary film.
For all the 3D dance wizardry (and seriously: Step Up 3D makes the best use of 3D technology of any live-action movie I’ve seen this year), the characters can’t even bother to fully inhabit one dimension, and the dialogue consists of the usual brand of cringe-worthy Disneyfied Ebonics and LOLspeak. It’s a goddamn cranial cavity rotting chore to suffer through the movie when the characters aren’t dancing. But when they do dance: Damn. It will blow the polyester out of your socks, puncture your testicles, and bang your ovaries — it is as energetic, frenetic, kinetic, melt-your-face stu-fucking-pendous as Step Up 2 was, but with the added element of three dimensions.
But in order to experience those dance sequences, you have to endure the other hour of the film, and as much as I got into the jaw-dropping, holy-shit-they-didn’t-just-do-that dance sequences, I’m not sure the trade-off is worth the stultifying effort or the nose bleeds. While I could normally recommend that you see it on DVD and fast-forward to the dance porn, in this case, you’d be missing a spectacular use of 3D. I think you just have to let it go, though. It says a lot about the dearth of the plot and characters that, in the end, the upside is not worth the brain hemorrhage.