Step Up: All In (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Step Up: All In (2014)

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Fresh from his success in Miami, Sean and his dance crew, The Mob, are trying to find another receptive audience for their unique moves in Los Angeles.  But as opportunities dry up everyone starts to get desperate.  His last opportunity for success comes from a dance competition in Las Vegas which brings in quite a few familiar faces.  Step Up: All In is the fifth film in the franchise and the first directed by Trish Sie.

Neon lights a blazinThe Step Up series, lord help us, has enough films to develop a mythology around its characters now.  With this fifth entry, All In, events from the three previous films are referenced to varying degrees as the characters square off in another dance competition.  I keep hoping that the franchise will lure Channing Tatum back now that he's gotten a massive bump in charisma, but I'm just as happy that the quirky Michael Jackson dance styling of Moose (Adam Sevani) is back for another round.

There's not much use in a universe that shares adventures and characters in different installments if we're just going to get the same plots and situations every time.  The last film, Revolution, did try to mix it up a bit by making the dance crew a political protest party that liked to organize through flash mobs.  However, whatever good intentions that went into that film were dashed the moment the heroine was walking through a set of nicely lit boxes by the pier and said how remarkable it is that people can live in them.  That was, quite possibly, the single most boneheaded thing the film could have commented on about the poor and gave the film a bad taste that the dancing never quite washed out.

So All In could have chosen to simply ignore the problems with its previous installment and trudge on with the all-star lineup.  Instead Trish Sie, along with screenwriter John Swetnam, decided that this film needed to be a response to the misplaced romanticism of the poor that was in Revolution.  This is tricky because too much drama and the fun washes up, but they could just as easily make things even more wrong by half-heartedly addressing the economic realities of dancers.  Any fears I have were washed away after two sequences - the first showing Sean's (Ryan Guzman) squalid living conditions as a dancer, and the second a dance mashup featuring twins bound by their hair, tesla coils galore, and a barely contained robot dancer playing the role of Frankenstein's monster.  Silly and socially responsible is one heck of a tightrope to walk, but All In manages it beautifully.

Overwhelming positivity is a hallmark of the Step Up series at its best, and is prominently on display with All In.

Overwhelming positivity is a hallmark of the Step Up series at its best, and is prominently on display with All In.

Now All In isn't about socialist realism so we don't watch the grueling physical aftermath of a dancing accident or anything like that.  But I like some of the lessons that are in store for Sean after Revolution.  The Mob is just a flash in the pan, and once the media appeal of their flash mob style wore off they find a lot of difficulty getting work at the start of All In.  In a funny jab at executive types, the first five minutes is a funny set of auditions wherein people pander to whatever cultural dynamic the trio of stuffy white folks ask them to.  It's humiliating stuff, and when we watch the rest of the crew struggling to keep food and rent going, as well as the stuffy conditions they have to live in, it comes as a reminder of how hard the dancing life is.

The Step Up series doesn't mine this direction for long, but it's nice that after years of talking about how hard the life is they finally show it.  I also liked how All In doesn't show each crew as having godly levels of talent that they can showcase at any time.  Sean's crew battles another in an early bar scene and I was underwhelmed by the moves of our heroes, but then the villains come in and make elaborate use of the bar and furniture as well as some fancy bottle flipping.  Seeing Sean's crew struggle gave actual stakes and growth to look forward to as the dance sequences get more elaborate and skillful.  By the time the climactic dance-off takes place we watched the tired crew get reassembled into something stronger.

Now, one of the other things I love about all the Step Up films is how they get subtly more progressive with the characters as time goes on.  Early in All In I was pleased to see that a bunch of burly, tattooed guys wish bushy beards were in different crews.  I'm so used to seeing svelte dancers that this was a nice surprise, but then the dancers with hairstyles inspired by the great Grace Jones showed up, the multicultural representation grows more with international crews of Brits and Koreans mixing in with our already diverse heroes.  It's worth noting that the Step Up films make almost three times as much overseas as they do here, and this positive presentation of different people is part of why.

The creativity in dance staging hits its peak early, but stays good throughout the film.

The creativity in dance staging hits its peak early, but stays good throughout the film.

All of this ties into the aesthetic that Trish Sie brings to this entry.  It's not as boisterous and creative as Step Up 3, but few films are.  Sie was previously known for doing the choreography for OK Go's music videos and that sense of playfulness and unity in dance is in full display here.  There's a lot more pairing and less solo or group moves than in earlier films, with her making great use of the Santiago twins and in a series high giving the always amazing robot dancer a cute courtship with another robot dancer.  Their flirtation is done entirely through dance and without a single line uttered between the two.  When they finally come together in a steam punk romp through the park it was so adorable I had to let out a few murmurs of high-pitched glee.

I wasn't digging the overall sequences as much as the individual parts, but there is not much I can find fault in the concept for each.  Giddy as I was to see the sci-fi Frankenstein homage I was just about as happy with the chandelier samurais taking on the steam punk crew in the last battle.  The only concept that doesn't work is the Lady Gaga parody Alexxa Brava (Izabella Miko), whose histrionics I enjoyed but kept the camera on unfolding conflict instead of more dancing.

Even with that, All In is a wonderful addition to the franchise.  When they're good, the Step Up world becomes one that I would love to live in where all conflicts are solved via over-the-top creative concepts and impressive feats of physical strength and coordination.  It's a world where people, no matter how they look or what they're attracted to, find a place with one another.  The world needs more films like All In, cheesy acting and all.

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Tail - Step Up All InStep Up: All In (2014)

Directed  by Trish Sie.
Screenplay written by John Swetnam.
Starring Ryan Guzman, Briana Evigan, and Adam Sevani.

Posted by Andrew

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