Somewhere, anywhere, in the Miami of the movies, there’s a woman emerging from a pool. Miami must be a favorite location for Hollywood producers; it gives the appearance that you’re taking the gang on the road but you can really just shoot it in LA with neon costumes and special filters. It seems like you’re making something new when you’re really just jazzing up an old, well-worn locale. I was surprised to find out that Step Up Revolution (2012) was actually shot on location in south Florida, I was less surprised it was the storyline that was old and well-worn.
I like the Step Up franchise, I like dance movies. Where Westerns and musicals have faded away and science fiction has been a relatively recent obsession, one of the only genres that can be connected from today all the way to the earliest sound pictures are movies about kids with rhythm in their souls. They’re comforting. There’s not much difference between the plot of Step Up Revolution and movies that starred Fred Astaire or Elvis and there’s almost no difference between Step Up Revolution and the others in the Step Up series at all, oh, I mean, except that now they’re in Miami. I’m not really bemoaning the lack of serial creativity among the filmmakers, I’m certainly in no hurry to see a “darker, more avant garde” Step Up movie, in fact, the franchise seems to be putting the money where it belongs; into the routines. That it comes at the expense of the script and nearly everything else is an acceptable trade off. Look at those moves by those undeveloped characters!
Sean (Ryan Guzman) is the leader of a dance crew called The Mob, which specializes in dancing flash mobs where the dozens or so crew members interrupt traffic or dinners by breaking into dance. The movie pretends that this is dangerous, introducing the energy of an Ocean’s Eleven-type heist movie as the crew plans how to “break in” to these public areas and dance to the near universal pleasure of those around them. More threatening is the business concerns of Bob Davidson (Peter Gallagher) who dastardly wants to turn a rundown area of the city into a development complex. Sean happens to work at a restaurant owned by Davidson and falls in love with a pretty girl there, Emily (Kathryn McCormick), who wants to be a classical dancer and get into a prestigious school. We see that she’s already pretty good. I feel people in these movies are always trying to get into schools to learn things they already know how to do at a professional level, but that’s neither here nor there. Emily’s road to dance is blocked by her father, the snidely Bob Davidson, wouldn’t you know it, who issues this ultimatum; “Either you’re a professional dancer by the end of the summer, or you come back to Cleveland and work for me.” That’s pretty dire.
As Sean and Emily’s relationship blossoms, she comes to understand how many lives will be ruined by her father’s development plans (the inhabitants of this neighborhood keep shuttering at all the homes and jobs that will be destroyed by the oncoming development which is, I guess, going to be a giant cement block that is staffed by no one), so with Emily secretly now in tow, the Mob starts staging attacks of rhythmic terrorism pointed directly at the Davidson project, swaying, through the use of the internet, public opinion on their side. Whether or not Emily’s participation will become known to her father, or whether she and Sean will have a moment of disunion that will threaten the crew and the neighborhood if they can’t come together for one final big dance, I will leave up to you.
Despite the eyerolls that the story provides, Step Up Revolution had me going for some time. The dances are particularly inventive (I especially liked a sequence in an art gallery) and as silly as it is, the “heist” element adds something to the routines, which are also staged effectively, not always a given in this type of picture. You don’t get to see as much actual dancing as you did in Astaire’s day, but the average shot length is a little longer than most to show off the talented crew members. The leads have an agreeable chemistry, again harkening to an older than dirt tradition of “let’s put on a show.” Step Up Revolution is anything but revolutionary but it knows the moves and gives them with high energy. However, the story is pretty dumb.
The happy ending is so happy and so improbable that it is hard not to enjoy it a little just on that level. One after another, the only people who can make the dreams of the characters come true seem to appear out of the crowd to say, “I just happened to be at this mundane ribbon cutting ceremony and I saw your dance and…” Even though the dancing might be the best in the series, the routines are completely disconnected from anything we’ve been compelled to care about. The Mob is completely driven by their ability to draw people to the online clips of their dancing. That seems to be the best way to enjoy the movie as well.