WHEN THE FIRST "Step Up" movie came out in 2006, few could have guessed that it would follow the "Die Hard" trajectory.
As the "Die Hard" films progressed, the once-normal John McClane went from street cop to supercop, taking on more complicated evils with each passing flick.
Unfortunately, the leads of "Step Up Revolution" aren't tasked with freeing hostages from a building taken over by a German madman or taking down an international hacker through the power of dance, but there's time in future "Step Up" movies for such heroics.
The original "Step Up," featuring a little-known Channing Tatum and his future wife, Jenna Dewan, was a simple love story, about a badboy who wends his ways at a Baltimore arts school and the snooty ballerina he falls for. The second "Step Up," subtitled "The Streets," was the same thing, with the genders switched, plus a whole dance crew. The third movie, the first 3-D outing, moved to New York, graduated to college and added a plucky let's-save-the-rec-center plot.
"Step Up Revolution" is the series' "Live Free or Die Hard": There are more explosions and the stakes are laughably higher.
A dance crew, called the Mob, has cropped up around Miami, starting flash mobs in an effort to win a YouTube contest. The Mob might be the only dance crew in recorded history that uses cars as props, has two parkour experts and employs a graffiti artist for flair. I don't think we're in Baltimore anymore, Toto.
Mob leader Sean (newcomer Ryan Guzman) meets Emily Anderson ("So You Think You Can Dance" Season 6 second runner-up Kathryn McCormick), the scion of the owner of the hotel where Sean waits tables. She's an aspiring dancer, but her pops, Mr. Anderson (Peter Gallagher), doesn't approve of her artistic ways and gives her a choice: Become a professional dancer by the end of the summer, or go run the business with him in Cleveland (when Gallagher says Cleveland, it sounds as if there are few worse fates). Emily needs the Mob to teach her to loosen up, but when Anderson announces he's going to develop the neighborhood where the blue-collar Mob resides, Sean persuades her to hide her identity from the group.
Outraged at her father's actions, Emily invigorates the Mob. "Enough with performance art," McCormick says so woodenly, it's a wonder the crew has the inspiration to choreograph. "It's time for protest art!"
Their 99-percent rallying cries culminate in a major dance sequence that's like a "Step Up" all-stars, featuring dancers from other movies, notably Adam Sevani as the lovable Moose.
The dancing in this "Step Up" iteration is considerably more elaborate than previous efforts, but in an effort to find appropriate dancers to fill the leads, the film was unable to find actors who can actually act.
The "Step Up" movies are one of those series that does inexplicably well at the box office, most likely because it's a simple story that features impossibly attractive people moving. It doesn't matter who stars and it doesn't matter who directs, although it should. Scott Speer takes over from Jon M. Chu (who pulled duty on "The Streets" and "3D"). Chu knew how to shoot a dance sequence, keep the camera largely steady, especially when he got to use 3-D. In his iterations, we actually got to see what we came to the theater for: dancing. There's a reason Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen rarely cut the camera during dance sequences in "Singing in the Rain."
Speer is a cross-cutter, keeping us clued in on the audience's reactions, as if their dumbfounded faces are as exciting as the dance going on somewhere offscreen.
Contact Molly Eichel at 215-854-5909 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @mollyeichel. Read her blog posts at www.philly.com/entertainment.
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Step Up Revolution
Directed by Scott Speer. With Kathryn McCormick, Ryan Guzman, Peter Gallagher and Mia Michaels. Distributed by Summit Entertainment.
Parents' guide: R (language, adult themes)
Running time: 99 minutes
Showing at: Area theaters