What happens when you expand upon an idea from Step Up 2: The Streets and combine it with a recycled love story from its predecessor? You get Step Up Revolution, the dullest movie in the franchise thus far.
In Step Up 2, there’s a scene where a group of street dancers film themselves breaking out into an elaborate routine inside a subway train freaking out the unsuspecting passengers and alerting the local cops. After fleeing without being arrested, they post the video online to get themselves a little buzz.
In Step Up Revolution, smug Sean (Ryan Guzman), a working class orphan like Channing Tatum in the first Step Up, leads another group of street dancers nicknamed The Mob (because they’re a flash mob, get it?) who orchestrate multiple public displays of dance, capture them on video and then upload them to the Internet. Why? To win a contest.
You see, if all their public dance videos can collectively generate 10 million hits, they win $100,000. (We have no idea what they plan to do with the money. Not that it really matters anyway.) Curiously, they appear to be the only crew in the contest. We never see any videos of their competition.
The best routine happens at the start of the film as the dancers file out of their parked cars and start dancing on the roofs. But then things get a little over the top as low rider cars start acting like trained elephants at the circus, rising until they’re only on their back wheels. As all of this is happening, a mostly mute graffiti artist (who you know will say something by the end of this movie), quickly puts together a multi-layered art display consisting of spray paint on several standing glass sheets. It’s something of a calling card for everyone in Miami to see. It’s not that great, really.
Somehow, this becomes the top story on the local news (which must mean this is a pretty boring place to live if this is the lead). Reviews are mostly negative. Two out of the three citizens interviewed for this report are more annoyed than impressed, which is how I ultimately felt about Step Up Revolution.
The Mob moves on to less memorable, mostly indulgent routines in an art museum (where they blend in with the paintings and sculptures) and a restaurant (where they wear masquerade masks). Somehow, they’re always able to avoid being arrested for trespassing and being public nuisances. Their stunts aren’t exactly tight, y’all.
After the parked car sequence, Sean meets rich girl Emily (a very stiff Kathryn McCormick who is no Jenna Dewan) at a daytime beach party and the quality of the movie dips considerably. They have zilcho chemistry. She can’t get a drink at the bar (or recite a line with conviction) but can become a finalist in another contest to get accepted into a ritzy ballet studio. (Dewan had a similar ambition.) She’s one of five nominated students vying for a residency. All she has to do is win over an impossible-to-please Mia Michaels, a judge from So You Think You Can Dance, the reality TV show that only seems to exist in order to cast these Step Up movies.
Sean works for her divorced father (Peter Gallagher), a cold-hearted real estate developer who makes the mistake of wanting to tear down Ricky’s, a favourite hangout of The Mob where they celebrate their successes (Sean never has to pay for drinks, for some reason), and other commercial & residential properties in that neighbourhood in favour of a gaudy tourist attraction. (Sean is a waiter in Gallagher’s hotel restaurant.)
Traditional Emily is repeatedly told at the ritzy ballet studio that her technique is good but she lacks originality. (How did she become a finalist, then?) So Sean tries expanding her repertoire but he doesn’t really teach her anything new, to be frank. He just holds her and lifts her and dips her. She wants to join The Mob but Sean is worried she won’t be accepted because of the neighbourhood issue with her father. Plus, Sean’s best friend, Eddy (Misha Gabriel) is immediately suspicious of her. (Gallagher fired him from the hotel restaurant for being late to an employee meeting. How villainous.) So, predictably, they keep it a secret as Eddy rather quickly gives in. They will both regret this decision.
Meanwhile, Gallagher is close to getting City Council approval for construction of his new tourist attraction which inspires The Mob to lead protest dances to save Ricky’s and all the other properties in their neighbourhood, much to the appreciation of the lazy residents there. (How come these people don’t conduct their own traditional protests with signs and chants? Like street dancing would be more effective?) They stage a flash mob in the lobby of Gallagher’s office building (to a strange Radiohead remix) after pulling the fire alarm. Then, without the approval of Sean, Eddy organizes a slightly more effective stunt during a gala for the project where The Mob neatly sabotages a video presentation (which unfortunately reminds us that Kathryn McCormick can’t act). This is the only time they get caught and promptly arrested.
Freed from custody the next day (the movie is so disinterested in this part of the story there’s no follow through or resolution, it’s simply dropped altogether), Sean and Eddy come to blows and split up. Before the foolhardy stunt at the gala (which disqualifies them from the online contest after being only a few hundred thousand hits away from victory), Eddy and The Mob discover the truth about Emily. Afterwards, Sean fails to convince her he had no genuine role in the public debacle. (A deleted scene on the DVD reveals he was against the idea from the start.)
With the situation looking bleak, can the neighbourhood still be saved? Will Eddy and Sean make peace and reform The Mob? Will Sean and Emily rekindle their boring romance?
Only a naïve child will be kept in suspense. Step Up Revolution ends with one final dance protest that enlists the services of a number of cast members from previous Step Up movies including that guy that does a killer robot and Moose with his irritating exploding fist bump gimmick. (We still don’t know the origin of his nickname. I’m guessing it’s because he looks like one.) It goes on forever although I did enjoy the breakdancing segment.
Call me crazy but I’m not sure the power of dance is so undeniable it could instantly melt the heart of a ruthless industrialist or that someone connected to a powerful ad firm would suddenly make an offer to a desperate dance crew once they finally stop protest dancing but the filmmakers are determined to have their obligatory, happy ending even if it completely lacks credibility. If the anti-Dakota Access Pipeline water protectors started flash mobs, would that change Donald Trump’s mind about the project of which he has a personal, invested interest? Wigga, please.
The Step Up movies have had a longstanding marriage with formula storytelling but you could always count on superb, sometimes innovative dance sequences to get you through the dull bits even if they weren’t nearly enough to overcome all this chronic predictability. Up to this point, the movies have been slightly less than average. Step Up Revolution, the fourth installment, is the first entry where you can’t even count on the dancing to alleviate your mental fatigue. After the opening car dance sequence, the movie begins to drag considerably and despite a welcome moment here and there, you remain deeply disinterested in what you see overall.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, February 9, 2017