Drugs, girls, unwanted pregnancy, financial problems, and hard partying have all played major roles in derailing many a college career. But, if you believe Step Up 3D, the sinister lure of the underground street-dancing scene is as corrupting an influence as any. Apparently, left unchecked, kicking up one’s heels can wreak cancerous havoc on the educational aspirations of our youth.
At least that’s what young Moose (Adam Sevani) discovers when, on his first day at New York University, he is lured by Luke (Rick Malambri) to a dimly lit warehouse loft, called the Vault, that provides residence to a fashionably shabby gaggle of hip-hop dancers and street performers. Moose promises his parents he’s given up the street-dancing life for college, but who couldn’t resist the alluring charm of the generically handsome Luke, who we soon discover is 5 months behind on the mortgage for the hoofer hangout. Soon, Moose is neglecting his college studies to live out his dream of the hip-hop dance life.
The members of the self-dubbed “House of Pirates” (though none looks or acts anything like a pirate) tell us it’s all about their “love of dance,” despite the fact they’re all training for the forthcoming World Jam, an epic dance-off competition that features a $100,000 grand prize. With the win, The Pirates hope to not only pay the back-rent, but also have enough left over to re-supply their loft with more expensive gear. Does street dancing really pay well enough to clothe and feed a dozen or so young hungry hipsters with lavish tastes? Regardless, the only thing between The Pirates and victory is the arch-enemy, The Samurai, a rival gang of dancers led by the scoffing Julien (Joe Slaughter).
That’s enough about the plot. I’ve already given it more attention than does director Jon Chu (from an amateurish script by Amy Andelson and Emily Meyer). In fact, not sure why we even needed a plot as nearly all the film’s drive and momentum comes from the impressive dance sequences, finely crafted by Jamal Sims and “Hi Hat” Ruffin -- who both also choreographed the first two installments of the series. Like a movie musical, the film screeches to a grinding halt every time the dancing stops. Perhaps this high-energy hip-hop style of dancing deserves a loving documentary or a Ken Burns mini-series. But as a scripted feature film, Step Up 3D is a tantalizingly frustrating experience. The dance scenes are highly energetic and truly fascinating to watch. There’s no questioning the athleticism of the performers, including Alyson Stoner as Moose’s childhood friend who accompanies him to NYU, and Aussie Sharni Vinson who plays the love interest opposite Malambri. But the 3D gadgetry (which the filmmakers proudly proclaim as the first time to be used in a dance film) is a needless distraction. Several scenes are clearly thrown in only because we’re wearing those stupid, large black glasses. I thought filmmakers learned long ago (sometime after Jaws 3D) that the jump-at-the-screen gimmicks are best used sparingly. Just step away from the toys, and tell a captivating story.
Another of the film’s problems is the fact that we can’t really tell who is winning these dance-off battles. Much like watching rugby in Invictus, the audience is primarily left to the mercy of judges and scoreboards to tell us who is good and who is bad. Sure, every dancer appears extremely talented (otherwise they wouldn’t be in the movie) and the dancing is very impressive, but placing the dance competitions within the framework of a tournament-style match should allow us to form a vested interest in the outcome – like in a sports movie. However, we’re just not knowledgeable about this sport, nor do we care enough about the characters, to worry about the outcome. 8 Mile suffered from the same flaws, but at least that film scored bigger points with its grit and style.
Step Up 3D is almost a complete waste of brilliant young dancing talent and energetic performances. The anemic script and stilted dialogue are laughable at times, and the acting ranges from poor to non-existent. But we also understand it’s not about the acting. It’s about dancing. And this style of dance (despite its overabundance of offensive gesticulations and aggressive posturing) most assuredly has a place in this world. Unfortunately, that place is not in a scripted movie at the hands of this stable of filmmakers.
(Released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and rated “PG-13 for brief strong language.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.