MacGuffin Film Review – Step Up 3D

Step Up 3D – A Review

In March of 2009, I received a call from a friend in regard to a dance audition.  Jon Chu, the director who made Step Up 2: The Streets (2008) was holding an online audition to find dancers for his next film.  Not being a huge fan of the Step Up movies, but having a love for hip-hop dancing, I thought to myself “Why not?  Might as well try out and see what happens.  Couldn’t possibly hurt.”  So that very day I grabbed my camera, went over to a local dance studio, and filmed my audition.  If you search deep enough, you can actually find that video hidden somewhere on this website.[Editor’s note: I’m posting it below – note the Criterion shirt] Needless to say, I wasn’t chosen.  Fast forward to the present, and I come to find out that the film Chu was working on was the third film of the series, Step Up 3D (2010).

In this film, Moose (Adam Sevani) who was a supporting character in the previous film, is brought to the foreground as one of the leads.  Here, we see him just entering NYU under the engineering program (guess how long it takes before that plan is thrown out the window?) with his friend Camille (Alyson Stoner).  Moose doesn’t even have enough time to enter a campus building until he is accidentally thrown in to a street battle featuring the Ninja Crew, lead by Kid Darkness (b-boy Daniel ‘Cloud’ Campos).  Not surprisingly, Moose impresses the crowd with his slick hip-hop skills, but immediately creates an enemy with Kid Darkness and the Ninjas.  This sets up the inevitable conflict for Moose: should he follow the path his parents laid out for him and continue with his engineering studies, or should he follow his heart and enter World Jam, the high-stakes dance competition, where the winner will walk away with $100,000?  Is there a person out there who can’t answer this question?

The second main storyline involves Luke (Rick Malambri), leader of the Pirates, a rag-tag team of street dancers who are also the main rival of the Ninjas.  He and the rest of the crew eat, sleep, and dance together, but a problem has arisen: they are 6 months behind on payments on the surprisingly enormous warehouse where they live and practice, and the bank is threatening to take their space away.  At the same time, Luke has a secret passion: he loves filmmaking…

Wait a minute!  A character that is a dancer but also has a passion for film and filmmaking??  How very interesting.  Does he also write articles for an up-and-coming movie review website?  Because that would be crazy.  But anyway, back to the story.

Luke enjoys filming his friends and editing his footage together, which surprisingly make up some of the best parts of the movie.   There are moments in the film where characters speak directly in to the camera (being shot by Luke) describing why they love to dance and how much it has affected their lives.  These moments are the most effective, possibly because the actors may not actually be acting, but really describing their own feelings.  Despite his obvious talent, Luke doesn’t believe he has what it takes to become a serious filmmaker.  Should he give up his dreams of going to film school in California and enter World Jam with his team and Moose, or should he take that chance and see what would happen if he follows his passion?  Is there a person out there who doesn’t believe that this movie will end with all questions being answered happily?

First and foremost, people will be going in to the film not for the storyline, but for the dancing.  On that aspect alone, they will not be disappointed.  There are a lot of dance scenes in the film, highlighting many elements of hip-hop.  You have break dancing, choreography, pop locking, ticking, tutting, and so on.  Chu fills the dance scenes with non-stop energy, as the performers execute moves that only a few people in the world can do, with the crowd cheering them on.  Break dancing enthusiasts will recognize a ton of big-name dancers in the film, such as Cloud, Ivan ‘’Flipz’ Velez, and Angelo ‘Lil Demon’ Baligad to name a few.  I’ve been around hip-hop dancing nearly my entire life, and I still find myself amazed at how a person can flip and rotate in the air, and then land and balance on their elbow, all in one motion and doing it apparently with little effort.  If the film were just a montage of all the dance scenes put together, it would be highly entertaining.

However, everything else about the film ranges from mediocre to simply bad.  The first question that comes to mind is: why in the world did they make this film in 3D?  The dancing is entertaining enough, why would the filmmakers want to take away from it by filming it in the third dimension?  How does the feeling of bubbles being near your face add anything to the story?  The fact that the film creates the illusion of the dancers being able to come out of the screen takes away from the actual dancing, forcing the audience to focus more on the effect rather than the performance.  Also, Chu adds elements to the dance scenes that are simply not necessary.  Why do we need the dancers covered in dust, or dancing in water, or wearing clothing that lights up?  This says to me that Chu didn’t believe that the dancing alone would be enough to excite audiences, and felt that highlighting it with gimmicks would somehow make it better, which it didn’t.

Another aspect I found myself cringing at was the acting.  Nearly all the actors in the film are dancers first, and you can clearly see that when they are not in their element.  The acting was either flat or unexpressive, or way over the top.  One of the supporting actor’s main responsibilities was to tell Luke randomly about the state of their home, and every time he spoke I found myself almost laughing at how deadpan and emotionless his delivery was.  Martin and Facundo Lombard, who play The Santiago Twins, are energetic and talented dancers, but horrible actors.  Their representation of Latinos was so forced and over the top that it came close to “Transformer Twin” offensive.  Luke’s romantic relationship with newcomer Natalie (Sharni Vinson) felt like an add-on during rewrites.  The way they meet (with Luke creepily filming Natalie with his camera in a dance club), to their romantic high point (blowing slurpee bubbles out of an air vent) was neither romantic nor entertaining, but simply ridiculous.

Step Up 3D will certainly split audiences in to two sections.  For those that go in to it only for the dancing, they will get more than enough to fill their appetites.  For those who enter the film looking for an engaging story with interesting characters, they’ll be disappointed, but honestly, what would you expect from a film titled “Step Up 3D”?  The movie delivers exactly as advertised, and doesn’t apologize for it.  Is it the greatest dance film ever made?  Not by a long shot, but at the same time, it certainly isn’t the worst.  There hasn’t been a great dance movie in quite a long time; hopefully one will emerge in the near future.  Perhaps filmmakers should rethink their audition choices (wink).

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