Dance can change the world but selling out puts change in your pocket
Step Up Revolution shares a surprising number of themes with last week’s big release, The Dark Knight Rises. In both films, a city’s protector is thrown to the wrong side of the law – cast as a criminal despite their good intentions – and salvation only comes when a city can learn to unite under its dark protector. Both films are surprisingly violent, feature cardboard characters trading clichés as if they were grade school children exchanging POGs – yet any surface lesions on the film itself can be easily forgiven thanks to winning cinematography and the elaborate stunts on display. The Dark Knight Rises and Step Up Revolution are essentially the same film – one where style outweighs substance despite an admirable attempt to cram a barrel-full of embarrassingly shallow literary allusions and freshmen-level philosophizing into a Saturday morning cartoon shell. Most amazing of all, though, is the fact that Step Up Revolution is the better film.
Step Up Revolution is set in an parallel universe (think DC Comics’ Earth-2 or one of those crazy alternate worlds that Jerry O’Connell would find himself visiting during an average episode of “Sliders“). In this strange, new world, flash mobs are essentially superheroes. Considered equal parts menace and savior by the Miami community, The Mob is a highly organized group of minimum wage fashion catalog models. When they aren’t busy busing your tables or dancing under the free showers on the beach (people are waiting to use those to rinse off after a swim!), these young adults meet in dark abandoned warehouses where they use very expensive (and very likely stolen) computer equipment to plan complex performance art pieces in a quest for fame, money and, yes, revolution. These are the heroes of our story.
The Mob is lead by Sean, a waiter who dreams of being a professional flash mobber (that occupation doesn’t exist on our world but in the parallel universe of Step Up Revolution, it’s as valid a career choice as being a lawyer, a doctor or an eyebrow wrangler for Peter Gallagher). Sean puts up with his demeaning job and unsupportive sister because of his dream – his dream to gather large groups of people, play loud obnoxious music in public space without a permit and cause a massive disruption in the day-to-day lives of law-abiding citizens. Sean dreams of the day where somebody will pay him to be a jerk. Standing by Sean’s side is Eddie, the group’s resident lovable computer nerd. These creepily co-dependent friends are hoping to win what amounts to a modern-day talent contest – if they are the first to achieve an ungodly amount of hits on their YouTube channel, they will walk away with a fat stack of cash. This money could be used to launch their careers as vigilante dancers – or, at the very least, allow them to afford shirts with sleeves.
Sean and Eddie’s friendship is threatened when Sean meets Emily Anderson, a gifted dancer and sufferer of that deadly disease “Rich Man’s Daughter Syndrome.” Cursed with a childhood in which she wanted for nothing, Emily is instantly drawn to the borderline poverty that Sean lives in – seduced by the vibrant lifestyle that only comes with consistently worrying about where the money to pay for their monthly rent is going to come from and where a daily work uniform more often-than-not includes a clip-on bowtie.
Like a modern-day Romeo and Juliet, Sean and Eddie are torn apart like the star-crossed lovers they are and Sean begins an admittedly sweet fling with the beautiful Emily (played by Kathryn McCormick in a role that proves to be just as challenging an acting role as her stint on the reality show “So You Think You Can Dance” – spoiler alert: she can). In a Step Up movie, foreplay includes gyrating hips and throwing sand at your partner’s glistening, oiled-up chest. As the two develop a love as deep and nuanced as writer Jenny Mayer can possibly muster (some pornos have a more developed romantic arc), their summer loving is threatened by Emily’s father.
Emily’s dear old dad, you see, has business cards that read “Evil Business Tycoon” and he has, in his hiss-worthy quest to provide a good future for his daughter, set his sights on turning the ghetto that The Mob call home into a lush and economically vibrant resort. Yes! Step Up Revolution has the same exact plot as at least half a dozen episodes of “Happy Days” – in order to save the Cuban restaurant where the dancers all hang out and drink milk shakes, they must dance like they’ve never danced before and begin a literal revolution. A step up revolution.
The movie is structured like a heist film and bears very strong resemblance to 2010’s Sound of Noise, the Swedish-French crime comedy that featured a band of renegade musicians pulling off elaborate performance art schemes as they cut a rhythmic swatch through an unwitting city. Like Sound of Noise, Step Up Revolution is a series of incredible performance pieces strung along like a string of pearls on a piece of twine. Without the allure of vaguely ethnic acrobats pulling off impossibly elaborate pranks upon a very patient beach community, the movie crumbles under the weight of its own familiarity.
The innocent plot, the dialogue being woodenly delivered by young actors more caricatures than characters, even the Miami setting – we’ve all seen it a million times before in a million types of dancing movies. Of course the young couple(s) torn apart by raging hormones and the raging eyebrows of Peter Gallagher will find their way back together. But that’s hardly the point, is it? No! This is a movie where plot or story means nothing. The Step Up movies exist for one purpose and one purpose only – reminding us that dance is a powerful and dangerous force. It can frighten, it can entertain and it can make the average American look upon its pudgy body and complete lack of rhythm and despair.
The level of violence in Step Up Revolution is fitting considering the title of the film. The dancers are overly aggressive and their motions and tendency to make little guns with their fingers while they pop and lock their way through quasi-militaristic formations is equal parts impressive and uncomfortable. The chorography of Step Up Revolution accurately calls to mind the imagery of a real revolution – this is real societal change being accomplished via back-flips, dips and do-se-dos. At the very least, the movie adopts an uncomfortable tone in light of recent events when a group of flack-jacket wearing dancers invade a swanky party wearing gas masks and wielding smoke bombs. As they make the motion of simultaneously firing shotguns and thrusting their pelvises, things just take a weird turn that the movie never quite recovers from . Horary!
Step Up Revolution is at its best when it embraces that weirdness intrinsic in being set in an alternate world where people actually take dancing seriously. When a rich and powerful man can be brought to tears from a dance and have his mind changed and his soul cleansed, the movie achieves a sublime silliness that helps make it one of the most entertaining films of the year. Step Up Revolution is a profoundly stupid movie and – as American reality TV has shown us – our culture loves stupidity. Especially stupid people who are extremely talented.
Come for the dancing in Step Up Revolution – vastly impressive routines that should not be dismissed no matter how much the bland, uninviting story may turn you off – but stay for the film’s inspiring message: You can achieve real, vital change through your art and make the world a better place if you follow your dreams. But sell out. Seriously. If Nike offers you a contract, accept without hesitation. Dreams are fun and all but Pac-Sun clothing is expensive, son!
Director: Scott Speer Writers: Jenny Mayer based on characters created by Duane Adler Notable Cast: Kathryn McCormick, Ryan Guzman, Adam Sevani, Misha Gabriel and Peter Gallagher
Robert Saucedo is an avid movie watcher with seriously poor sleeping habits. The Mikey from Life cereal of film fans, Robert will watch just about anything — good, bad or ugly. He has written about film for newspapers, radio and online for the last 10 years. This has taken a toll on his sanity — of that you can be sure. Follow him on Twitter at @robsaucedo2500.