It’s refreshing to see a movie play to its strengths, which is precisely what “Step Up Revolution” — the fourth installment in the franchise — does so well. It gives audiences approximately two hours of punch-you-in-the-gut, streetwise, bootylicious dancing. More succinctly, there’s very little in the way of storyline, dialogue or acting. And that’s OK. The minds behind these films have finally accepted that they don’t need to ask their dancer-stars to pretend to act. That’s not what brings people to the theater.
Step Up Revolution
At Quality 16 and Rave
What’s needed, rather, is a plot that requires little thought on the part of the audience. So long as the exquisitely constructed performances connect in a kind of linear fashion, we suspend disbelief. Because the artistry — and yes, there is real artistic achievement here — lies in director Scott Speer’s ability to film flash mobs the way Peter Jackson films Middle Earth: with a fetishistic obsession that makes them larger than life, almost majestic.
We open with Sean (newcomer Ryan Guzman) turning to best-friend Eddy (Misha Gabriel, “Clerks II”) and asking, “You ready?” Eddy smirks. “You’re kidding, right?” he responds. The two buddies then step out of the car, initiating a flash mob smack in the middle of Miami. Like a dance number from a classic Hollywood musical, the street erupts into a choreographed frenzy showcasing the latest moves from The Mob, an underground dance crew trying to make a name for themselves by winning a YouTube competition.
The video soon goes viral, generating millions of hits within days. And The Mob seems poised for stardom. Complications arise, however when Sean, The Mob’s front man, falls for Emily (Kathryn McCormick, “Fame”), the daughter of wealthy businessman Bill Anderson (Peter Gallagher, “American Beauty”). Anderson is intent on developing a hotel in a historic district of Miami where The Mob holds strong roots. His plans don’t go over well with The Mob or his daughter, an aspiring dancer with hopes of dancing in a professional company. She joins The Mob — both for love and to inject a sense of “danger” into her otherwise safe style of dance — and a modern-day David-and-Goliath story unfolds in dance-battle fashion.
The result is an extended music video of sorts. Imagine the best parts of Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance” combined with eye-popping visual effects and cinematography. In one scene a fine art museum becomes The Mob’s stage as the dancers, clad in camouflaged costumes, peel off of the paintings, literally bringing the art to life. In another scene The Mob turns to protest art as they “mob” a city council meeting in an attempt to save their neighborhood. This time they adorn themselves in suits and fedoras, mechanically moving throughout the office building, dollar bills fluttering in the air. It could easily be the background to a Michael Jackson number as they dance in fluid synchronization. Mesmerizing doesn’t even begin to capture the feeling that’s created as camera meets dancer in this duet for the digital age.
Unfortunately, there are occasional cringe-inducing moments where these gorgeous people have to actually (gasp) act. In these scenes it’s disheartening to think that you root for the villain, as Gallagher — the only real actor of the bunch — dominates the screen. His lines are cheesy. His character is as thinly drawn as they come. But this is still the man who charmed legions of fans as Sandy Cohen in “The O.C”. He reveals depth where the other characters reveal little more than beautiful smiles atop beautiful bodies.
On top of the gratuitous shots of bikini-clad women lounging poolside (We get it. We’re in Miami) the biggest flaw is that “Revolution” is still restricted by the traditional restraints of story. The poor waiter. The rich girl with artistic ambitions. The oppressive father. Corporate conglomerates pushing out the little guy. It’s like the screenwriters reached into a bag and pulled out the most obvious plot points that have worked in similar movies of the genre. Yes, Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey made sparks fly as, you guessed it, a poor waiter and a wealthy girl in “Step Up” ’s ’80s equivalent “Dirty Dancing”.
But there’s no need for “Revolution” to include a lame reproduction of that movie. Better to take a note from Bollywood and let the movement do the talking. No pulpy emotions injected unnecessarily between performances. No preachy voice-over monologues. No moments of startling irony (spoiler alert: the movie’s finale prompts a Nike representative to ask The Mob if they want to be the new face of the company. They accept. The fact that they work the whole movie to stave off a hotel chain, only to sell out to a corporation that’s been accused of using sweatshop labor since the ’70s is a paradox that’s difficult to swallow). All we really need are the types of dance that make us drool with envy and awe. Anything “movie” related is secondary.