For all the talk about how 3D has changed action thrillers and inflated box-office totals, one thing we haven’t seen yet is musicals putting the technology to use, especially when it comes to dance. Obviously, you don’t need 3D to tell if one dancer is passing in front of another, but 3D can give you a sense of spacing and layering that you don’t get from an ordinary 2D image. The fourth film in its series, Step Up Revolution puts the technology to better use than its predecessor, Step Up 3D, and it presents a way forward for a more ambitious musical. Oh, and it has some cool dance numbers.
Sean (Ryan Guzman) is the co-founder of an underground troupe of Miami dancers that stages flash mob performances in high-profile public places around South Beach. When he meets and falls for Emily (Kathryn McCormick), a trained modern dancer who’s looking to shed her inhibitions, he brings her in as a new member. She brings the troupe a welcome touch of traditional feminine grace, but her real-estate developer dad (Peter Gallagher) is preparing to build a new luxury hotel by evicting everyone in Sean’s neighborhood.
I’m pretty sure this is the plot of every breakdancing movie from the 1980s, even if the marketing tries to make this look like the next wave of the Occupy movement. Each storyline is resolved in exactly the way you’d predict. The movie pretends that a flash mob troupe could cause a national sensation or stay anonymous without taking any steps to conceal the members’ identity. The dancers’ ranks mysteriously swell and contract without anyone recruiting new members. The two lead actors are actively painful to watch, they’re so bad.
Yet none of this stuff matters as much as the dance numbers, and the four choreographers on this film (overseen by Jamal Sims, who has been with this series from the start) are fairly brimming with innovation here. The opening number on Ocean Drive incorporates low-rider cars moving in sync with the dancers. The sequence in an art museum features dancers disguised as pieces of art and ballerinas in glowing tutus under a blacklight. My favorite is the one staged in the dining room of a fancy restaurant, in which the louche sexuality of the dance (and the music it’s set to, Skylar Grey’s “Dance Without You”) contrasts well with the severity of the interior. It also plays to the strengths of McCormick, a finalist on TV’s So You Think You Can Dance, who comes alive as a performer when she starts to move. I wish director Scott Speer hadn’t intercut his dances with shots of mind-blown spectators every two seconds, and I wish the leading lady hadn’t been largely sidelined during the blowout finale. Still, from a pure dance perspective, Step Up Revolution is the strongest installment in the series. That counts for a good deal. It might even be worth the 3D upcharge.
Step Up Revolution
Starring Ryan Guzman and Kathryn McCormick. Directed by Scott Speer. Written by Amanda Brody. Rated PG-13.