I don’t know who to blame for “Step Up”.
And I imagine the defining defense for the film’s quality will be: “Hey, Kevin Smith liked it.” Which is unfortunate.
Now granted, the power of dance on a person or persons can be debatable, but to be subjected to the same cookie cutter romance/dance film about the ability of the art of dance to change each other and our world, is a torturous cycle that I’m afraid may never end. Because people love these predictable, cliché, run of the mill products. “Dirty Dancing”, “Save the Last Dance”, “Shall we Dance?”, “Take the Lead”, “The Way She Moves”, I can go on.
And the willingness of said screenwriters to churn these clichés shamelessly makes “Step Up” an utterly arduous task to sit through. There’s the hip hop hero, the prima ballerina, the parents who don’t believe in their daughter’s career, the back and forth between ballerina and hip hop hero a la “Dirty Dancing”, their inevitable romance, and the climax where–dramatic pause—ballet and hip hop converge to form an amazing show! It’s “8 Mile” meets Fred Astaire in one of the most blatant and embarrassing 98 minute clichés I’ve seen in years.
The writers don’t seem to want to explore other options, they just rely on safety, and predictability, and a pretty boring story. Tyler is the boy from the wrong side of the tracks who vandalizes a music school and is caught. As punishment, he has to work there, and conveniently comes across a young ballerina whose partner has conveniently sprained his ankle. In desperate need of a partner for her recital, she enlists Tyler who learns her moves and falls for her.
It’s the yawn heard around the world. And I can only envision the screenwriters struggling to stay awake while writing this dribble at their computer. There are musical montages of the two bonding and practicing, a blaring hip hop score that never stops, the obligatory love interest, and they just pull out all the stops in feeding us the same artificial romance garbage we’ve seen over a hundred times over, and none it ever makes for entertaining fodder. And do I even have to mention how much of a walking cliché Rachel Griffiths is as a music school principal?
The ultimate downfall of “Step Up” is that it relies on the strength of our principle cast, both of which never have enough presence or power to keep this cliché parade afloat. The lovely Jenna Dewan, coming off the underwhelming “Tamara”, brings the roots of her dance background to her role as Nora, the career driven ballerina with a “tragic past”, who has to team up with Tyler who is the local white hip hopper (Channing Tatum channeling Eminem), and potential convict.
Tatum’s acting relies around a series of murmurs and grunts that somewhat resembles dialogue on occasion, while Dewan’s charisma is there, but her character is never as interesting as she has the potential to be. Most confusing of all is Tyler’s odd appeal as a dancer; in what world is Tyler a good dancer? I’ve had better moves with a back spasm. But that’s not to say the choreography isn’t tight, as we’re given one or two really entertaining dance sequences midway.
But “Step Up” doesn’t want to be new, original, innovative, or fresh, and it makes a point of practicing that guideline at every chance. And that’s why it’s a success.