By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Oh, the performers can dance all right. But here’s a dance flick that could have been called So You Think You Can Act or So You think You Can Dramatize.
This fourth Step Up installment, previously titled “Step Up 4Ever” and “Step Up: Miami Heat,” is set against the vibrant backdrop of Miami, which certainly represents a change of venue, but for a film that is otherwise ploddingly formulaic.
It follows Step Up (2006), Step Up 2: The Streets (2008), and Step Up 3D (2010).
Apparently, then, we are to get a Step Up every two years whether we need one or want one or not.
When Step Up first stepped up six years ago, featuring Channing Tatum in his first lead role, it tried to follow in the footsteps of such dance-themed films as Dirty Dancing, Save the Last Dance, Saturday Night Fever, and Fame.
It certainly managed to hold our attention during the spirited dance sequences, but sagged at times because of narrative limitations such as undeveloped and unconvincing subplots and sermonizing, simplistic dialogue.
In other words, it had a good beat and you could dance to it, but it also danced around too much of the central story.
As for the acting, it was unmistakably secondary to the footwork, but it was at least adequate. Such is not the case with Step Up Revolution, which has the acting equivalent of two left feet.
Emily (Kathryn McCormick) is the daughter of a wealthy businessman (Peter Gallagher). She arrives in Miami intent on becoming a professional dancer, and falls in love with Sean (Ryan Guzman), the leader, along with his best bud Eddy (Misha Gabriel), of a flash-mob dance crew known as the MOB.
The MOB is trying to win a YouTube contest for a major sponsorship opportunity, but Emily’s dad threatens to develop the MOB’s historic neighborhood, thus displacing thousands from their homes.
So the MOB must become a protest mob and use their performances to put the kibosh on that form of progress.
Music video and television director Scott Speer — working from a flimsy screenplay by Adam Shankman, Jennifer Gibgot, Erik Fieg, and Patrick Wachsberger that’s essentially in the age-old tradition of Mickey-and-Judy-let’s-put-on-a-show extravaganzas — depends entirely on his target audience’s appreciation of vigorous dancing, and features extravagantly energetic choreography, with athletic, gravity-defying moves punctuating a dazzling-precision spectacle as the film’s backbone.
And in a bit of truly unfortunate timing, one dance number includes smoke bombs and gas masks, bringing Aurora, Colo. inadvertently to mind.
But here’s the problem that can’t be danced around: when a director from another showbiz sphere and relatively inexperienced actors (the two leads are making their feature-film debuts) collaborate on a dance film like this one, it’s almost painful any time no one is dancing.
Fortunately, someone usually is dancing in Step Up Revolution. Unfortunately, however, they sometimes stop.
So forget story, forget character, forget dialogue, forget acting, forget theme, and forget drama. But if all you’re looking for is to sit back and watch dancing, step right up.
If not, stay away.
So we’ll mob 2 stars out of 4 for another hyperactive chance at dance and romance, Step Up Revolution. The franchise’s fourth Step Up is neither a step up nor a step down, but a step sideways.