I come to Step Up 3D with no knowledge of the previous two films, and, if I’m honest, no knowledge of dance films in general. A lot has to do with the fact that I don’t like the music that accompanies the dance, but this is a film, and thus must be judged on its own merit. This third instalment reunites a few cast members and various crew members from the previous two films in an all new adventure (not a sequel) set in the streets and dance clubs of New York City.
The film opens up with video recordings of several dancers expressing to camera why they dance, their feelings and motivations, and at first I was thinking this could be an interesting approach, a dance movie from the view of the dancers themselves, exploring their passion, what drives them to such extremes, how and what ‘battles’ are and why they are so important. However, it quickly dissolves into Luke (Rick Malambri) a hobby film maker, filming his friends as they talk about themselves. Cut to Moose (Adam G. Sevani) and Camille (Alyson Stoner), two bestest everest friends leaving to attend New York University. In Central Park they pledge their friendship and Moose promises his parents that he is done with that ‘dance stuff’. No sooner do his parents leave than Moose accidentally steps into a dance battle and is encouraged by the crowd to participate – several nifty moves later and with the aid of bubbles and balloons, he wins the battle, but is forced to run from the police due to his antics. At this point Luke, who was filming the incident, takes Moose under his wing, introduces him to his dance crew – The Pirates – in their live in commune, a pad originally owned by Luke’s parents, above a dance club. Seems that the commune is months behind in their mortgage payments and being threatened by the bank, so the crew is all set for the World Jam event, an unprecedented dance battle with a prize fund of one hundred thousand dollars, that will pay off all the Pirate’s debts – one problem, they have to win against their deadliest rivals the Samurai, whose leader, Julien (Joe Slaughter) has a personal beef with Luke!
These opening few minutes neatly set up the gambit for the rest of the film, we are introduced to the main characters, the plight that the characters are faced with and we are right into the dancing! In fact this opening dance scene works very well, particularly with the 3D. Moose is chasing some limited edition Nike shoes and stumbles, inadvertently, onto a dance platform where one of the Samurai dancers is performing – this immediately set up a battle, so reluctantly Moose is ‘forced’ to fight. The moves are quite amazing, these guys really can move their bodies, but I am uncertain as to what constitutes a ‘win’. It seems, judging by this scene, that the more outlandish the move, the higher the score? Although there is no arbiter, excepting the crowds cheering. Leaping on picnic tables, onto vendors tables, bursting bubbles and releasing another vendors balloons appear to win the battle, though, thankfully, such behaviour is seen to attract the attention of the police. Luke’s rescue of Moose leads to their friendship, although at this point it’s a purely selfish motivation on Luke’s part, he sees something in Moose that he can use in his dance troupe, a motley crew of individuals that have all unique styles that somehow meld into perfect sync creating a cohesive whole. Moose seems to fit right in, despite his insistence that that he has given up dance and must work on his studies (electrical engineering). Luke in this respect comes off as a little bit of a spoilt brat – he insists that Moose dance with the team, telling him to ditch his studies for this up and coming contest – there is even a scene where Moose has to choose between a final exam and a dance contest. Such conflict could have made for an interesting character dynamic – similar themes were played out in the original Fame (1980) which made for compelling viewing. But there the music was second place to the characters. Step Up 3D is first and foremost a dance film, characters and story come second place, and the film suffers accordingly.
Character dynamics between Moose and Luke, Luke and Natalie (Sharni Vinson) (another girl recruited by Luke to his team, whose background revelation is supposed to be one of betrayal) and Moose and Camille (his long time friend and ‘will they or wont they’ love interest) very much play second fiddle, which is a shame because there could have been much made of them. It is not helped that all of them are dancers first and actors second, meaning that when it comes to dramatic speeches there is little believability in their eyes. So the director chooses to lighten these moments by cutting to the next dance sequence as soon as possible. Areas of tension can turn laughable, one in particular is when the Samurai trap Moose in a toilet, one of them rips off the front of his coat to reveal speakers that play another loud beat-box tune and the six or seven of the Samurai dance around Moose in an attempt to get revenge for their comrade who was beaten earlier. Forget how they found him, or how they got into a club belonging to their bitter rivals, it is just groan inducingly bad to watch these guys jump around a toilet in a dance battle!
As to the story itself, well there is nothing original here, and everything is contrived to get to the final dance sequence. The best friend relationship, now turned into enemy rivalry, of Julien and Luke plays out with simply idiocy, the love interest between Luke and Natalie is sickly sweet and obvious and even the betrayal and redemption are clearly seen before the characters even meet on screen at the same time. There is never any doubt about where the film is going or how it is going to get there. But where it does score points is with its dancing. The various dance battles are pulled off with amazing dexterity and really come alive with the use of 3D. There is no denying the dancers ability as they slide, leap, bodypop, spin and all other manner of moves around the floor. Each individual dance performance looks pretty good but when combined with the group, they go to form an amazing ensemble that moves with incredible precision. Dance is what this film is about, and if you are into dance then I dare say you will get a lot form this flick. If, however, you need a little more than just leaping about, I’m afraid you will be sorely disappointed. As for me, well, I didn’t hate it, but I won’t be watching it again. Take from that what you will.
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