30 July 2012

STEP AWAY

Someone would have to be an abject moron to be "disappointed" by Step Up Revolution, which is after all the fourth film in the Step Up franchise, and which thus is pretty much exactly the movie it's supposed to be. I think it's awfully grown-up of me to openly confess in a public forum that I am that abject moron.

The problem is Step Up 3D - or, no the problem is never Step Up 3D, the problem is that Revolution cannot begin to live up to the gaudy, campy, tacky spectacle that Step Up 3D promised. Part of this is simply the inevitable progression of time, as the New becomes familiar and its novelty fades away. In 2010, a 3-D dance movie was something different; in 2012, there is no kind of 3-D movie that is different enough to be worth the bother. The bigger thing is that Step Up 3D was completely, apocalyptically shameless: even now, five years into the new wave of 3-D movies, I cannot name any movie using the gimmick that is so excited about playing with it in the crassest way possible, and no moment that typifies the most idiotic, spectacle-driven approach to 3-D better than the scene in that film where the bland male lead dribbles a slushee over a subway exhaust vent, and the little globules of little green sugar water go flying right out into the audience. It is, verily, one of the defining moments of contemporary cinema: pointless, stupid, driven entirely by a dumb trick, reeks of the assumption that the audience is a pack of small children who need the most frivolous form of entertainment. I adore it so; it is honest in a way that very little in modern American film is willing to be.

There's absolutely nothing in Revolution so sublimely gauche as that; the 3-D is relatively well-used, sure, and movement of the human body gets a certain extra level of meaning when it happens in multiple dimensions, though the film is lucky that there's no obvious overlap in the audiences for a Step Up film and Wim Wenders's Pina, which is basically the smarter, more artistic, and far more successful version of the same idea. But well-used 3-D, and excitingly tacky, dense 3-D are hardly the same thing, and surely Wenders was never going to have theme park trickery in his movie; that is what we rely on shitty programmers like this for. And it has not fulfilled its duty.

In a franchise light on continuity, this is the most isolated Step Up yet (its only connection to the others is a very small cameo by Adam Sevani as Moose, the teeth-grindingly annoying character first introduces in Step Up 2 The Streets). The plot involves a Miami-based performance art group calling itself The Mob - it is the first sign of epically screenwriter Amanda Brody fails to understand everything about her subject matter that she imagines something as blandly functional and obvious as "The Mob" would be the chosen name of any performance art group - which uses flash mobs to perform their combinations of breakdancing and street art. The Mob's leader is a certain Sean (Ryan Guzman), who works as a waiter at the Miami signature hotel of a real estate magnate named Anderson (Peter Gallagher), whose rebellious daughter, Emily (Kathryn McCormick) wants to be a professional dancer. Naturally, then, she and Sean have a meet cute and she ends up joining The Mob as a learning experience that quickly becomes more when Anderson announces a plan to turn the waterfront slum where Sean and his family and friends all live into a resort complex; it is the most natural idea in the world for The Mob to switch gears from performance art to protest art, to shame Anderson and his company into leaving their way of life alone.

There are two ways we could look at this: as a story of two pretty young people falling in love and dancing, or as a political message movie about the need to tame rampant corporate growth, using art as a tool to fight the powerful. The first of these - the "it's a Step Up movie" approach - is the only sane way to go, because it is, after all, a Step Up movie. Besides, as a work of political analysis and as an attempt to depict culture, Revolution is an unmitigated, nonstop failure: setting aside the question of whether abstract dancing can actually function as an effective protest the way it's shown to do here (of course not, though it's nice to play pretend), it seems profoundly unlikely that people this cash-strapped could mount dances as complex as the ones we see here, Brody's understanding of "flash mobs" seems to begin and end with the name, and it takes several days if not weeks for a nationally-significant viral video to hit 10 million views. It is contemptibly divorced from human social or political behavior in every way. Let us leave it at that.

And so we have a romantic dance movie, a Step Up picture: and even here, Revolution is very probably the worst of the four, though not by a huge margin and "the worst Step Up movie" is not anyway a very meaningful statement one way or another. Still, there we are: the choreography is awfully straightforward and even then, poorly framed by director Scott Speer, the two leads are the worst dancers in the bunch (which is probably why the choreography is straightforward), and they are unbelievably terrible actors: Guzman is "better" than McCormick, which is largely just a way of saying that he acts like a leaden, unconvincing amateur, while she is genuinely alienating in her shrill, caffeinated gesticulating.It's a stridently uninteresting movie, not bad enough to be funny, not shameless enough to be amusing, and certainly not good enough to be a decent time-waster. It's boring pretty people talking about how much better they are at dancing than is actually the case, unattractively filmed, with no 3-D, nothing like enough intelligence to put over its too-ambitious plot, and simply put, no actual reason to exist whatsoever.

4/10

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