Reel Opinions

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Step Up

The oh-so modest ad campaign for the new teen dance drama, Step Up, proudly proclaims that once in a while a movie comes along that speaks to an entire generation, and that this is supposed to be that movie. The announcer then goes on to say that it's the most fun you can have at the movies this year. Mind you, these are not quotes created by some hack critic who got bought off by the Disney-Touchstone studio, this is the actual ad campaign that they are using to promote the film. With promises like that, your movie has a lot to deliver, and Step Up just doesn't deliver the goods. Choreographer turned first-time filmmaker Anne Fletcher obviously never met a cliche she didn't like, and fills her film to the brim with just about every one she can think of. The fact that there was another dance movie released back in April that covered many of the same areas (Take the Lead) only makes matters even worse.

I could pretty much sum this movie's entire plot in one simple sentence, and that would be "Take every inner city and dance movie cliche you can think of and cram them together". But, for the sake of those of you who are actually insane enough to care about what this movie is about, I'll go into more detail. Tyler Gage (Channing Tatum from She's the Man) is a troubled high school student who hangs out with unruly gang members, jacks cars, and breaks into buildings. One night, Tyler is caught by a security guard after his friends and him break into a local school of the arts and start trashing a set for the play that some students are performing. He is sentenced to perform community service at the school, and one day while mopping the floor, he happens to notice a beautiful young dancer named Nora Clark (Jenna Dewan, who also starred in Take the Lead). Nora has a lot of problems of her own. A big dance show is coming up, and her partner recently injured himself, so he can't perform. Worst of all, if she doesn't win over the crowd at the show and get picked to join a professional company, Nora will have to go to a boring and stuffy old college that her unsympathetic mother (Deirdre Lovejoy) picked out for her. Desperate for a partner, she picks Tyler, and the two naturally start to hit it off with each other, even though they come from different lifestyles. Of course, Tyler's old hood friends start to feel betrayed that he's spending more time with her than with them, and Nora has a jealous boyfriend (Josh Henderson) who doesn't like the ill-mannered Tyler.

Although it suffered from many of the same cliches problems, at least Take the Lead had some entertaining and energetic dance performance scenes that grabbed our attention. It also had a good star turn from Antonio Banderas who made a likeable mentor to the troubled kids. Step Up, on the other hand, has nothing to help lift it above the pit of mediocrity it digs for itself. Despite having an almost 12 year history in the industry staging dance sequences (everything from The Mask to The 40-Year Old Virgin), choreographer and director Anne Fletcher just can't breathe any life or excitement out of her dance segments. The dancers are certainly talented, but they just don't do anything that we haven't seen done before, and they come across as being rather pedestrian and bland. That's a big problem when your film's main plot builds up to a big dance talent competition that's supposed to blow everyone away, and what we get looks like something out of an amateur music video filmed in a teenager's garage. Not once did a feel a rush or did my mouth crack a smile like watching good dancing can sometimes do. It would certainly be nice if we got to see a larger variety of dance moves, but a majority of the scenes are montages that feature Tyler and Nora trying to do the same moves over and over again. When your movie's about dancing, and your dance sequences cannot even excite an audience full of preteen girls, you know you're doing something wrong.

When the movie is not spinning its wheels with numerous uninspired dance sequences, we're treated to a plot we have seen done many times before and done much better. The screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg and Duane Adler (Save the Last Dance) just can't drum up enough inspiration to make us care about the characters or anything that happens to them. A lot of this has to do with how overly sanitized the entire film feels. For someone who supposedly comes from a bad side of town, and hangs out with career criminals, Tyler certainly doesn't seem to have it as bad as the movie would like to have us believe. He's supposed to have a hurried mother who doesn't have time for him and an alcoholic father, but both characters barely appear in the film, and the only family member we ever get to see is his adorable younger sister, so his home life doesn't seem that bad. Even when he's hanging out with his hood friends, things seem pretty dull. Aside from having a gun pointed at his face early in the movie, and the little brother of his best friend getting shot, the worst thing these kids run into is accidentally setting off a car alarm and running away. When he starts showing up at the school of the arts, he's supposed to be portrayed as a wild rebel who has a dangerous way of thinking, but he seemed to conform to Nora's standards pretty quickly, and hardly does anything that backs up his "bad boy" status. I guess the filmmakers felt that they needed to keep things fairly clean to ensure a "family friendly" rating, but it still makes it rather hard to buy Tyler as a rebel when he willingly joins Nora's ballet class without even rolling an eye or mouthing off.

The most uninspired aspect of Step Up, however, would have to be the performances. Not only does everyone look way too old to be in high school, but they simply don't have the slightest bit of charisma to carry a film. Channing Tatum seems to confuse mumbling and narrowing his eyes for acting, coasting through his entire performance with as little emotion as possible. Jenna Dewan holds up a little better, but she doesn't have any chemistry with Tatum during their scenes, not even when they're dancing. Their dances are supposed to be an extension of their relationship, and for most of the film, they act like two people who have never met each other before and are dancing together for the first time. The rest of the cast is mainly made up of minority actors playing tired minority gang and musician stereotypes. Not one single character stands out or rings true in this movie. They are just an interchangeable mix of faces that could be filled by any attractive early to mid-twenty something.

With absolutely nothing to help it stand out, Step Up quickly wears out its welcome, and you start checking your watch a lot sooner than you probably should for a movie that runs for almost two hours. It's never quite unwatchable, but there's just nothing up there on the big screen to warrant its existence. I really have no idea what the people at the Disney Studios saw in this movie that made them feel it deserved such an important-sounding ad campaign. Maybe they saw a different cut of the film than I did. All I know is Step Up slips up big time.

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  • Next up two of the writers of Date Movie will bring us the joy of Dance Movie without the wit to really dig into it.

    I want there to be a school dancing movie where it's just blown to exaggerated proportions and the kids rise from being thugs and delinquents to having to save the world in an international dancing competition so they can stop the impending WWIII. It must be as ridiculous as possible.

    By Blogger Escushion, at 4:08 PM  

  • I seriously think you need to copywrite that idea.

    By Blogger Ryan, at 1:57 PM  

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