After Step Up 3D (2010) took the next step in dance movie awesomeness, Step Up Revolution, a.k.a. Step Up 4: Miami Heat, feels like a bit of a step down. I wouldn’t go so far as to say director Scott Speer stepped in it, but I do feel the producers ought to step back and reassess their approach for the next instalment, figuring out what put Jon Chu’s flick a step above and taking active steps to avoid the missteps that plague this entry… Okay, okay, I’m done with the puns… Almost.
Ripped from last year’s headlines or possibly a game of Monopoly, Step Up Revolution relocates the franchise to Miami, where real estate developer Bill Anderson (Peter Gallagher) wants to buy off the dance-friendly slums to build a beach resort full of soulless hotels and such. Believing firmly that the ninety-nine percent should keep on living in lesser conditions, a renegade group of dancers called the Mob sets out to save the neighbourhood one outrageous pop-and-lock at a time. However, the bromance between its leaders Eddie (Misha Gabriel) and Sean (Ryan Guzman) is threatened when the latter falls in love with Anderson’s daughter, Emily.
She’s played by Kathryn McCormick, whose performance seems cobbled together from hundreds of mismatched takes in which the actress always seems to stare in the wrong direction. I mention this without qualm, since one comes to a Step Up flick for the dance numbers, and she can bust a move like there’s no tomorrow. In fact, McCormick’s claim to fame is that she should’ve won season six of So You think You Can Dance but lost out to krumper Russell Ferguson. In my review of Step Up 3D, I listed all the cast members I recognised from Nigel Lythgoe’s reality show. Unfortunately, I lack the bandwidth to do the same here.
Anyway, for all its inane “eat the rich” platitudes, Step Up Revolution has got interesting ideas about artistic expression and responsibility. Consider how Emily’s struggles in her dance company parallel those of the Mob, which starts off disturbing the public for YouTube hits (got to beat Dubstep Kitty!) but only resonates with audiences after evolving from performance art to protest art. Creativity without purpose is just movement, screenwriter Amanda Brody seems to argue, and I tend to agree.
More to the point, the concept of a freedom-fighting flash mob lends itself to particularly inventive set pieces, the most notable of which involve a gallery exhibit in which the art pieces come alive and groove to electronica music and a Wall Street dance-over of sorts with flying paper money and a giant robot. Top-notch choreographers have worked on Step Up Revolution, including Jamal Sims, Christopher Scott, and Travis Wall of, you guessed it, So You Think You Can Dance. It’s unfortunate then that Speer doesn’t trust the dance numbers to speak for themselves, constantly interrupting their natural flow with obnoxious pans and close-ups. Come to think of it, the result is not unlike watching So You Think You Can Dance Canada.
It doesn’t help that I can’t bring myself to care about any of these characters. Sean and his posse take themselves far too seriously, given they inhabit a universe in which anonymous street performers make the news for shaking their booty during a red light. To be clear, I’m not criticising the stupidity of it but the trepidation with which the stupidity is presented. Step Up 3D had super-villain dancers who bully the innocent with their mad moonwalking skills. That crosses the line so far into the ridiculous that it made the movie logic-proof. I remember thinking Step Up Revolution needed something equally ludicrous. Then came the terrorist dance crew with its Sandman masks, smoke bombs, and angry, angry jazz hands.
Here’s why the concept redeems just about every cliché that comes before. Part of my issue with the Mob lies in its members acting like entitled brats: yes, your boss is going to fire you if you show up twenty minutes late to a crucial meeting and show neither remorse nor respect. By acknowledging their potential for evil, Step Up Revolution makes it clear we’re not always supposed to root for them. Moreover, the notion refines Brody’s message about artistic integrity: it’s not enough to denounce the world; you’ve got to have a positive goal in mind, whether it be corporate compromise or exposing the worth of a community.
I understand how some might scoff at my finding an inkling of depth in a film structured around the old “save the rec center” plot, but I genuinely believe student protestors in my neck of the woods could benefit from its unlikely wisdom. I guess what I’m trying to convey is that, though the terrorist dancers come a bit too late in Step Up Revolution to make the movie an instant classic like its predecessor, they did prevent me from stepping out before the final act… All right, now I’m done.