'Step Up Revolution': Dancing with a dollop of politics
The fight to dance for what you believe in starts as a covert operation in Step Up Revolution, the fourth installment in the popular dance-movie series. Set in a spicy Miami and introducing a conspiracy of creatives called the Mob, the film's motley crew stage epic flash mobs (the dancing kind) around town. There is a DJ, and there are a pair of Parkour performers, a special effects whiz, and a graffiti artist.
And then there are Step Up Revolution's stars: Sean (Ryan Guzman), a neighborhood hip-hopper, and Emily (Kathryn McCormick), a Twyla Tharp wannabe and daughter of an evil real estate developer (played by Peter Gallagher). They fall in love despite living on different ends of the beach. And after a rocky start as an apprentice for Wynwood Contemporary dance (her dream job), Emily joins the group's secret operation to perform a massive synchronized dance that will prevent her father from carrying out his corporate schemes. Spoiler: Gallagher sheds a few 3-D tears.
This gang of highly skilled dancers (with the guidance of debut director Scott Speer) delivers a sequence of spectacular group numbers that truly pop in 3-D. The Mob brings a gallery's worth of art installations to life, doing a ballet in jellyfish costumes. They gyrate on tabletops in upscale restaurants and leave behind sculptures made of cutlery. It would all be too ridiculous, if it weren't for the choreography on display.
But when you take the 3-D glasses off and the dance numbers make way for story line, Step Up Revolution is hardly revolutionary. In fact, it's a familiar amalgam of all of the dance movies that have come before - pushing the boundaries between tribute and parody. One dancer shouts, "It's time to go from performance art to protest art!" And so they do, in the least artful way possible.
But if you're into dance, and dance movies, this one teems with the latest trends (albeit trends that will soon turn to nostalgia). In addition to those flash-mob numbers, there are YouTube viral videos and Improv Everywhere-style antics that drive this movie to its krumping, pop-locking, wall-jumping finale. Fans of TV's So You Think You Can Dance will take pleasure in the self-referential performances of choreographer Mia Michaels, not to mention Step Up Revolution's leading lady, former SYTYCD contestant McCormick.
Shamelessly derivative throughout, Step Up Revolution throws in a sensual dance rehearsal in the water à la Dirty Dancing, and an opening sequence of souped-up race cars in Fast and Furious mode - only this time there are dancers break-dancing on top of the cars!
The character of Sean - his greased-up six-pack, his backward hat, and his dreams, bigger than just dancing alone or getting a real job - can't help reminding us of Step Up alum Channing Tatum, grinding away in the theater next door. Sadly, somewhere between a split and a fist pump, Revolution fell flat, and I found myself wishing for Magic Mike in 3-D.