Move aside Honey 2, Streetdance 2, and any other dance flick sequels hanging around the multiplex: the king of the genre has returned for a fourth outing. The Step Up franchise may have followed various other attempts at using dance sequences to pad out thinly plotted teen movies with something to say about class divisions (Save The Last Dance, Take The Lead and many, many more), but it’s the undisputed leader of the pack in 2012. This new instalment, renamed from Step Up: Revolution in the US, is more of the same, but should thrill fans of the series.
The plot is as predictable as they come, with a flash-mob dance crew, calling themselves ‘The Mob’ working their way around Miami in an attempt to go viral, thus winning a YouTube competition worth $1 million. The leader of the group is Sean (Ryan Guzman), who meets Emily (Kathryn McCormick) and invites her to join the group. As it turns out, though, Emily is the coddled daughter of an evil corporate giant (Peter Gallagher) who plans to tear down the crew’s homes and businesses and build a tourist complex in their place. Performance art turns into protest art, as the film’s trailer promised, and family loyalties are tested.
But does anyone really care about the plot of a dance film? Sure, it’s better when one has been worked out beforehand, but it’s the dance sequences and music that truly matter, not the clunky dialogue or forced relationships. Step Up 4’s narrative drive is actually better than most, since they’ve dispensed with the tired Romeo And Juliet-style strife (Emily and Ryan’s budding relationship isn’t really disputed) and it largely glosses over the class issues inherent to the chosen storyline. No, much of the film focuses on the power of art to form convincing protest, and that’s a relevant and vaguely compelling way to go given the constraints of the genre.
There’s actually more dancing here than in your average dance flick, too, and it’s a forgiving choice given the lack of attention given to the necessary exposition scenes. We have to understand the contest, Emily’s desire to become part of a prestigious academy, and the central dispute between Mr Anderson and The Mob. Other than that, the film carries itself by quite simply being the best in the business. All of the extended flash-mobs are fantastic, and some are simply breathtaking. The sheer number of triumphant numbers might diminish their effect by the end, but a scene in an art gallery, and another at a city council meeting, nearly justify the film by themselves.
The message gets irrevocably mixed, however, when Sean and his friends are offered a deal with Nike. The (admittedly shallow) By this point, Emily has also lost her dream of becoming a professional dancer with her chosen company, but she’s still more than happy to sell out, along with her fellow dancers, for a chance at the big bucks. Didn’t they just spend 97-minutes detailing the evils of corporate greed?
This all means that the film isn’t really an effective piece of cinema, and plays more like an extended music video. I believe the dance movie serves a purpose, but wouldn’t it be great if someone broke the mould once in a while?
Had Step Up 4 put more faith in its ideas, we could have had a truly triumphant come-back on our hands but, just as the Final Destination series now provides a humorous distraction between more worthy horror films, so the early promise of the Step Up franchise has long been forgotten, resulting in this movie being resigned to the same pile as other, inferior examples of the genre.
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