Don’t let the adverts fool you. Step Up 3D is a fantasy film. Where else but in an Adam Shankman produced fantasy could you find such lunacy as a college student finding his destiny by chasing after a pair of magic sneakers (think white rabbit) or a safe house for stray dancers equipped with its very own Danger Room (think Lost Boys)? There’s also this bit in which an evil b-boy crew ambushes a rival in a public washroom and attacks him with killer dance moves. What’s astounding is our hero runs away terrified as if a well executed electric boogaloo might take his life.
Of course, none of it makes any sense, but I was too busy admiring the breathtaking dance numbers and tubular 3-D effects to care. Directed by Jon Chu, who knows to pull back the camera and keep the mood as light as the plot, Step Up 3D is the sort of flick in which characters burst into a fully choreographed Gene Kelly homage and no one save a snarky little girl thinks it’s weird the music from an ice cream truck somehow followed them all the way down the street. Maybe the nearby pedestrians were too distracted by all the random objects flying about. Ever wondered what floating Slurpee drops look like in 3-D? Pretty neat, as it turns out.
The movie’s also a who’s who of dance television. Mid-level celebrities include Other Asian (Harry Shum Jr) from Glee, Alyson Stoner from Camp Rock and Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam, as well as Ashley Nino, Twitch, and Legacy from So You Think You Can Dance seasons two, four, and six respectively. Season four winner Joshua Allen makes an appearance as well. He’s one of the bullies with the murderous pop-and-locks.
To fit in all these cameos, the filmmakers have merged two cookie-cutter stories chuck full of plot holes and absurd dialogue. One tells of Luke (Rick Malambri), owner of the aforementioned safe house and the kind of bloke who spends his mornings sitting on a rooftop because the sound of traffic connects him to the universe. If his crew, the Pirates, doesn’t win the World Jam dance contest, the bank will foreclose the X-Mansion, which somehow results in trust issues with his new girlfriend, Natalie (Sharni Vinson). Hey, it was either that or the producers putting a less attractive couple on the poster.
The other thread deals with the superior dancer, Moose (Adam Sevani), who promised his parents he’d focus on his engineering studies and stop getting jiggy with it. His best friend, Camille (Alyson Stoner), doesn’t approve of his joining the Pirates because deep down the two are in love and, as these things go, they need an artificial conflict before figuring it out. The two actors are kind of plain-looking by Hollywood standards, but they’ve got chemistry, and Sevani can really light up a stage. Theirs is the romance that held my interest, perhaps because charisma trumps chiselled abs any day of the week.
I don’t know why I’m bothering with the plot. It merely sets the stage for a series of increasingly flamboyant dance battles, the first of which involves a ring covered in chalk dust and governed by extras from Mad Max: The Musical. You can tell right away the Pirates are better dancers because their moves reach out to the audience, while the baddies only play with depth. That is, until they unleash their secret weapon: a girl with Mohawk hair who gesticulates straight at you and scowls like she just don’t care.
Stage two takes place in a Chinese theatre, where a ninety percent Asian crew awaits our heroes. Did they decorate the joint themselves? For reasons too convoluted to spoil, the ring starts flooding in the middle of the dance-off, and the contestants have to adapt their mad skills, splish-splashing their way to the end. I suspect somewhere on the cutting room floor is a scene in which the Pirates compete in a lava pit as Bowser drops Bob-ombs from atop a smiley-face helicopter.
The movie is filled to the brim with set pieces celebrating dance in all its forms. When the Pirates train, they rehearse Parkour and Capoeira moves because nothing says break-dancing like free running and a Brazilian martial art. Also, Luke tells Natalie not to practice next to his boom box wall, and then everybody does just that thirty seconds later. Oh, and did I mention the ballroom scene in which two street performers crash a tango party, then learn not just the basic steps but the whole choreography through the power of instant osmosis?
After reading this review, you may decide Step Up 3D is either awesome or stupid. You might even go with awesomely stupid. For my money, it’s stupidly awesome. I mean, you don’t attend a movie called “Step Up 3D” hoping to find complex drama, especially not if you’ve seen the previous sequel, Step Up 2: The Streets (the first one having apparently taken place on an avenue). In all likelihood, you want kickass dance sequences with limbs flailing right in your face. If that’s the case, you got served, yo.