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.
The 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.
Viewed through the lens of schadenfreude, Battle of the Year is a slammin' entertainment. There is nary a frame that goes by without an embarrassment to the great art of acting, cinematography, or screenwriting. The holy trinity is dashed to pieces through a beaten and depressed-looking Josh Holloway, terrible dance scenes, and dialogue so direct it makes you wonder why there are visuals to go with the film at all. It’s a depressing experience, but one that brings up the questions about who thought they were getting a good shake out of the film.
I can’t bring myself to look at the film in only that fashion. As I’ve demonstrated, I love modern dance films. I’ve never cottoned to the Busby Berkeley films of old but one breakdancing and hip-hop started got more exposure I knew that I’d found the kind of dance I love to watch. Step Up 3D is, without irony, one of the best films ever – a perfect fusion with the joy of dance and people who know just how to make it pop onscreen.
Battle of the Year is a tease when it comes to dance. You’d think that would be a point of worry when the film markets itself as a dance movie, but that would get in the way of the overabundance of product placement and stagnant dialogue that tumbles through many joyless minutes. It’s more than thirty minutes before we see a full dance that isn’t reconstructed through reused stock footage. Most of that footage comes from director Benson Lee’s much better 2007 documentary Planet B-Boy.
Last week's major disappointment was through Nolan's final Batman film, this week it's a painful entry in the Step Up franchise. I'm starting to feel that the world isn't going to allow me to have pleasure anymore.
Coming off the tails of the surprisingly creative Step Up 3D, which features the best use of 3D technology since it came back in-vogue, this dance flick is a huge disappointment. Gone are the borderline-insane dance routines where coal miners faced off against multicultural robots in a warehouse. Now it's a bunch of protestors looking to make a dent in the Miami government by taking a stand against a real estate developer who is looking to turn a string of well liked small businesses into one mirrored omniplex.
It's a strange idea turning a series about dancing into a long form commentary on how large corporations are stomping out the little man. But it's one with promise, dance as an art can be very confrontational and put in the right hands it could have led to an interesting use of the form. Instead it's a bumper for scenes of people moping around about their relationships failing, their local beer joint closing, and a Youtube contest they just might not be good enough to win. Ah, so not only is it also a dance film about unchecked Capitalist expansion, it also is really dour and features mostly repetitive dance sequences set to thumping cameras.
This isn't exactly the upper I was expecting on a Friday night.
"You better roll bounce. I'm gonna stomp your yard, and take honey with you 'cause she's coyote ugly."
These films are sort of starting to blend together, aren't they? Or maybe it's just part of the natural process of aging. As we get older time starts to speed up, events blend together and the years become meaningless until, poof, we're dead. In the meantime we measure the passing of time with little rituals and milestones, some unique and others repeating, in order to attempt a celebration of it's passage.
The resurrection, evolution, and gradual decay of the modern dance film has reached it's inevitable climax at the hands of the Wayans brothers parody film. What was once a source of some kind-hearted hilarity (see Blankman and Don't Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood) has become the polar opposite. A parody in their hands means only one thing now - the death of a genre's creative streak.
I felt myself starting to break as I watched How She Move. The tone, haphazardly assembled from bad bits of opening narration and "Gritty" street reality wasn't working for me at all. Worse still, despite the presence of almost twice the dance scenes of Stomp the Yard, none of them were particularly exciting.
I have a theory as to why, and any professional dancers out there are allowed to correct me if I'm entirely off. Dance works best as a cinematic device when it's used to create joy. This is why films like You Got Served and Rize have stood head over heels above Step-Up and Stomp the Yard. It's an expression of desire and passion instead of a bunch of angry people stomping their frustration out.