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Monday, July 30, 2012

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Step Up: Revolution: More Than the Sum of Its Dance-Movie Parts

Here is what you need to understand about dance movies: there are rules.

A few of the most important:

1. There must be a (hot) male lead and (hot) female lead, both of whom can dance. Preferably, these leads must have slightly different dance "styles" that will, through the course of 90 minutes, turn into a sweet dance alchemy evidenced in one or more dance finales. These leads are, for better or (usually) worse, white, because obviously white people are solidly B+ dancers/make marketing executives less nervous.

2. There must be a supporting cast of dance characters. This is where the non-white people get to shine. This is also where the people who can really f-ing dance but can't act get to hang out.

3. There must be one or more dead or absent parents.

4. There must be someone who doesn't understand that all one/both of the main characters wants to do is DANCE.

5. There must be a killer soundtrack, filled with a mix of old and new dance classics.

6. There must be at least six dance sequences, with varying degrees of formality, planning, improvisation, costumes, synchronicity. At least one should be in a public space, at least one should be on an actual stage. 

7. There must be a vague social commentary nested within the dancing. Dance for freedom, dance against racism, dance to defeat machinations of manipulative white men, dance against capitalism, etc., etc.

8. The dancing must be real. Let me elaborate: the best part of watching dancing is watching bodies move. When directors CGI and slo-mo the shit out of a dance routine, the pleasure we take in what a body can do is lost. I'm fine with fast-cuts, montages, and manipulative sound editing. But the more you let the bodies — not the FX — be the spectacle, the more awesome the dance movie.

The films of the Contemporary Dance Movie Hall of Fame do all these things and do them well: Center Stage, Step Up (the first), the new Footloose (just trust me here), Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights and, obviously, Save the Last Dance. (How She Move breaks rule #1 and is all the better for it.)

Like so many of you, I've seen and loved Step Up. I love early C-Tates, I love his sweatpants, and I love that scene in the club where everyone somehow knows the same dance and he gloriously pops his collar. Apart from the weird subplot involving a gang hit, it's almost a perfect movie. But Step Up 2 The Streets broke rule number 1 (lead male dancer not hot enough) and Step Up 3D flagrantly violated rule number 8. The fact that a movie in which a slurpee came off the screen toward you was a boring slog should tell you what you need to know. It was the Transformers 3 of dance movies: all explosions, no soul.

Now I will submit, for your approval, a new entry in the dance movie canon: Step Up: Revolution, a.k.a. Step Up 4, a.k.a. the biggest surprise of my movie-going summer. The evidence, in brief:

1. The lead male dancer is this guy. This guy this guy this guy. And holy christ can he dance. And also act? He's of the Tatum-school of acting: lots of earnest beefiness. I might be in love.

2. The female lead (Kathryn McCormick), who’s apparently somewhat annoying on So You Think You Can Dance, is pretty solid and unannoying. A+ for dancing, B- for acting, A- for beach hair, B+ for sultry looks.

3. The director of photography/cinematographer is named Crash.

4. The cast of characters in "The Mob" (the dance crew) are so one-note and classically awesome. ("The Artist," "The Tech Guy," "The FX Guys," etc).

5. The siiiick DJ is a lady.

6. The dancing set-pieces are breathtaking and unexpected — and all in different ways. In most dance movies — and Step Ups in particular — there's a certain style of elaborate, tricked-out street dancing that, by the end of the film, can almost become tiresome. In Revolution, there's car dancing, table dancing (not how you might imagine), salsa, modern dance, and good ol' fashioned industrial-landscape street dancing. Instead of simply trying to add more dancers, or more flips, or more paint or rain, each dance is a new take on the idea of dance performance. We love genre films because we know what we're going to get; the best genre films give us what we expect but then twist it, transform it, delight us.

7. Peter Gallagher plays evil capitalist dad. His eyebrows add tremendous gravity.

8. The chemistry between the leads is HOTT.

9. There's a genuine Marxist, agit-prop commentary at the heart of the film. Granted, this commentary gets muddled with a few of the developments at the end, but the idea of art as a way for the invisible working class to make themselves visible — a notion actually articulated by the hottie protagonist — is startlingly perceptive, not to mention progressive. The underclass uses their bodies, their millenial-tech skills, and social media savvy to make the bourgeoisie wake the fuck up. Like Magic Mike, this is a social commentary film posturing as a dance film.

Don't mistake me: there is no shortage of hokey lines. There is a bit of low-budget green-screening. The ending is wholly improbable. But that's how dance movies — and most genre movies, for that matter — work. What surprises me about Step Up Revolution, then, is how it transcends its badness and becomes more than the sum of its dance movie parts.

You don't need to see it in 3D. You probably don't even need to see it in the theater. But let it be known: Step Up Revolution is authentically, spectacularly, surprisingly awesome.

Anne Helen Petersen is a Doctor of Celebrity Gossip. No, really. You can find evidence (and other writings) here. (And here.)

86 Comments / Post A Comment

SuperGogo

Oh dear, Girls Just Want to Have Fun didn't make the cut? Well I guess there's about half the number of required dance sequences, isn't there (unless we can count SJP and Helen Hunt bouncing around in their PJs?...thought not).

Anne Helen Petersen

@SuperGogo Note: *Contemporary* dance movies, as in 1995 on. Otherwise I'd spend 5000 words on the 1950s alone.

redheaded&crazy

I need to have a dance movie marathon.

redheaded&crazy

also: Footloose the original is probably my favourite dance movie forever. It qualifies right? I. LOVE. IT.

please tell me how wrong i am because xyz movies are so much better so i can go out and watch them all.

redheaded&crazy

also also: I would like to know more about this "earnest beefiness" school of acting.

Anne Helen Petersen

@redheaded&crazie Gary Cooper is its founder; Russell Crowe is its current don.

downcomforter

@redheaded&crazie Oh my god YES, best school of acting ever. Also that Magic Mike is really a social commentary film. I totally had this discussion with someone, and then I realized that I was "reading playboy for the articles."

Anne Helen Petersen

@downcomforter God yes, the first fifteen minutes of Magic Mike could be a documentary film about the working poor.

redheaded&crazy

@downcomforter i liked it more for that reason! It had more substance than I was expecting and I was okay with that. somebody's gotta read those articles, right??

Megasus

@redheaded&crazie I WILL BRING SWING KIDS

Escapade Dunfree

@Megano! SWING HEIL!!!

downcomforter

@redheaded&crazie I can't wait for "Magic Mike 2: The GOP Convention comes to Tampa." There would be SO MUCH social commentary.

Escapade Dunfree

@redheaded&crazie One of the friends in the hoard of women I went with to see Magic Mike complained heartily about the substance of said film, and I definitely got a little judgey-face about that. Social commentary + Ginuwine = two great tastes that taste great together.

redheaded&crazy

@Megano! OKAY~!

(I'VE NEVER SEEN SWING KIDS! IS IT GOOD?! ALL CAPS GETS ME EXCITED!)

Megasus

@redheaded&crazie You could literally go to a concentration camp for swing dancing! It is the ultimate dance/social justice movie!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=COJH-cPJ2so

joie

@redheaded&crazie well...it has Robert Sean Leonard, so if by good, you mean AMAZING, WELL THEN YES IT IS. See also: Newsies. (Christian Bale with a quavery, hilarious Brooklyn accent AND Bill Pullman with literally the same floppy, adorable hair he has in every movie ever)

Megasus

@Mame Dennis-Pickett-Burnside I ALSO HAVE NEWSIES

joie

@Megano! look at you, you're the King of New York!

Nutmeg

@downcomforter Magic Mike is the movie that I can't describe without the addendum of, "...and I am DEFINITELY going back to school this fall."

Myrtle

@Anne Helen Petersen Can I just come out on my lawn to say "White Nights" and Gregory Hines with Baryshnikov < ahref=www.youtube.com/watch?v=haBZCrBHMm4>best dance ever

TheUnchosenOne

Anyone who can talk shit about Step Up 3D WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY praising Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights is no friend of mine.

meaux

@TheUnchosenOne. WORD.

NorieY

Oh my god, I loved this movie. Yes to all of the things you said, a million times. The scene in the art gallery was so cool and fun. This movie was seriously delightful. I had way more fun at this movie then, say, The Dark Knight Returns, because at least here I was expecting and willing to overlook the un-ending stupidity of the plot and script.

Bittersweet

10. Ethan Stiefel's involvement is always a plus.

I actually didn't find Kathryn McCormick that annoying when she was a contestant on SYTYCD. She started out all crying at the drop of an interview mic, but got better through the season and her dancing did (and still does) kick ass.

Carrie Ann

@Bittersweet Right? Who thinks Kathryn is annoying? I will cut you! She is one of my all-time faves from SYTYCD. I mean, if we're gonna talk annoying, I saw a few people who thought Lauren Gottlieb should have been cast over Kathryn. Lauren bugs the crap out of me for some reason.

Megasus

Oh man, I might have to christen my Scene card with this baby. It is also cheap day tomorrow. I CAN'T LOSE.

Danzig!

I hear there was a sequence set to a wobblefart remix of "Pyramid Song"? Confirm / deny

muggles

@Danzig! IT'S TOTALLY, MINDBOGGLINGLY, BREATHTAKINGLY TRUE

dj pomegranate

I will watch any/all dance movies. I LOVE THEM ALL. I love them so much! Can we have a dance movie marathon pinup?

crookedlegs

I saw the title of this post in my twitter feed and knew immediately that it would be written by AHP! Excitement!

Katie Heaney

HOLY SHIT AHP I have so many Step Up related thoughts and am so excited you have them also and PLEASE CAN WE DISCUSS

*light spoilers*
*if step up can even really have spoilers*

1. I disliked these leads more than any of the others previous. I thought they were both awful actors? And uncharismatic dancers? I think it had a lot to do with Lead Lady (what...was her name) not being primarily a hip hop dancer, and all I want from step up is hip hop dancing, BUT. I was not swayed! I much preferred Ladies of Step Up #2 and #3!
2. Did you notice how, when The Mob decided to get SERIOUS on Sandy Cohen, and that was the scary part with smoke bombs, that like, ALL the dancers shown were black? (Still, Step Up 2 was STILL more racist.)
3. THE ART MUSEUM SCENE was one of the most appealing breathtaking scenes I've seen in A WHILE. I mean, dumb, but how cool was that?
4. Moose was so sorely underused that I can't even think about it, I clenched my fists for all thirty seconds he was present and maybe yelled MOOSE and I regret none of it.
5. Lead Lady's hair had this magical quality where it switches back and forth from straight to curly in moments, like the blue and pink of Sleeping Beauty's dress, and though I was unmoved by her generally I was greatly impressed by both this and her eyebrows.

Katie Heaney

@Katie Heaney also despite the SEVERE hokey-ness of the 3D effects in step up 3D I can't help but hold that one on a pedestal for the soundtrack (ludacris! potion!), for having the MOST dancing to the least plot, and for that scene where moose dances in the water and it's seriously the coolest thing I have everrrr seen

pajamaralls

@Katie Heaney It's all about Moose. He makes Step Up 2.

Katie Heaney

@Katie Heaney I mean maybe what all this is telling me is just "you should examine/question your feelings for this 20-year-old small boy"

Anne Helen Petersen

@Katie Heaney I concede that 1.) There is far too little Moose and 2.) That scene with the water, amazing, just amazing. But maybe what made this movie really work for me = the male lead. I'm used to feeling apathetic towards the female lead, which means it's all about the male lead. And he is legit breathtaking handsome. At first I thought he was just going to be derivative Abercrombie fratty, but there's a twinkle in his eye that you really only see in those who actually become stars. Before you start protesting, let's rewind to 2006, when Tatum was a doofus who could dance....and is now the star of THREE MONSTER HITS in 2012.

And I could've written an entire post about Lead Lady's hair.

As for my favorite dance scene -- the museum was amazing, but the table dance! That dress!

Katie Heaney

@Anne Helen Petersen Conceded that lead man was, while not doing it for me on the level it seems he did it for you, a fine looking young gentleman who looked nice in suit clothes. I'd rank him #2 in step up dudes (channing, him, blondie from #2, guy from #3 who was boring). YES ALSO the table dance, her makeup in that, I need a screenshot of that so I can copy it/wear it everyday regardless of social situation.

Wish

@Katie Heaney SO Agreed. MORE MOOSE FOREVER.

But really, I found these leads to be awful and the whole thing was just trying to hard to have MEANING, but nothing ever really seemed at stake?

That said, the art museum and table dance bits were awesome.

Chills

@Katie Heaney Don't think about it just accept it! I got so excited seeing him in the trailer, I am sad to hear he is not in the film much.

citizenjess

@Katie Heaney Luda (the potion) was in Step Up 2, which was totally the best (best Moose! best water dancing!! least flo rida! best Dave Scott booty shaking next to a car!) of all the Step Ups!! (But I would probably rank them 2, 4, 3, 1. I love Channing Tatum but 1 falls flat for me.)

Katie Heaney

@citizenjess oh damn you are TOTALLY right about the music. I got confused because that's the soundtrack I bought most recently!!! haha uhhh. I still think moose's step up 3 water dancing is cooler though. I KNOW RIGHT whatttt, ugh, so hard to choose.

Katie Heaney

@citizenjess also idk how you can just sit here and insult flo rida directly to my face !!!!!!!

catspajamas

@Katie Heaney I too want to give a Moose shout out! I also want to say that Step Up 3D was not the best but, it was better than you might think. See it for Moose's solo alone. Soooo adorbs!

TheBelleWitch

The link on "HOTT" takes me to an "access denied" page which is making me all the more intrigued. FORBIDDEN HOTNESS.

Spinach Party

@TheBelleWitch Agh, me too!

Inspector Tiger

@TheBelleWitch just reload it (and then be disappointed, well I was)

Anne Helen Petersen

@Inspector Tiger Does this work?

Spinach Party

@Anne Helen Petersen Works for me, thanks! That is sultry enough to satisfy me.

TheBelleWitch

@Anne Helen Petersen Oh yeah, that works. It was (imaginarily) hotter when it was forbidden, but what isn't, really.

pajamaralls

I'm still bothered by the fact that the name was changed from Step Up 4Ever, to Step Up: Revolution.

Katie Heaney

@pajamaralls I'm trying to take that as a consolation, like they don't want to assign numbers to them anymore, like they'll be themed now instead, because they will be infinite, and because step up: 37 sounds weirder than Step Up: Desert Winds or whatever

✞Ry★n Br❤d€r♪ck✞@twitter

OKAY SO I'm a pretty big fan of the Step Up franchise. My favorite is easily the third one because:

1) It had a very strong ensemble cast
2) A really good amount of Flo Rida (diagetic Flo Rida too, not some hamfisted-in Flo Rida track in the CREDITS.
3) It did a lot of world building by having Camille from the first and Moose from the second fall in love.
4) And it had the best crew-drama, in my opinion, topping the dead fish dance taunt from 2 The Streets.

So after all of that, and I'm a little LET DOWN because there wasn't any of that in Revolution! But the opening dance sequence and the end dance sequences were awesome. Plus while they didn't have like a crew versus crew or competition story, they did have like a pretty cool rich for poor fight and that's pretty great. I mean evil real estate developer is the best. So while I was A LITTLE let down, I'd of course I'd watch a fifth one, so like whatever.

Also, to add to @pajamaralls' and @Katie Heaney's point, I think they made it Revolution because this is the beginning of a new trilogy. But that's just my hunch.

And most importantly, when Moose and Mr. Robot show up at the end I lost my shit so who cares about pretty much anything else in the movie, right?

pajamaralls

@Katie Heaney Now I'm very intrigued as to what Step Up: Desert Winds would be like. Have you considered a career in dance movie screen writing?

vernon hardapple

@pajamaralls It's a SOCIAL MEDIA REVOLUTION!!!!! SO ON-TREND.

meetapossum

@pajamaralls Next will be Step Up 5Ever. (Or, hopefully, Step Up 5Gether.)

Wish

I'm going to have to disagree with the conclusion. While I appreciate Rule 8, I think Step Up 3 balanced effects with more effective dance sequences and pacing, which 4 seriously lacked. I walked away from 4 feeling kind of Meh about the whole thing. The awesome dance to awful acting/plot blech ratio barely came out even.

While hot, the lead male just came off like a jerk with no redeeming qualities and the female..just a wash. At least in 3 the leads were meh, but the supporting actors were AWESOME and had a chance to shine. Here, not so much. I mean, Twitch is fantastic and so was the DJ girl, but they barely got to contribute anything to the conversation.

JadedStone

I love dance movies. ALL the dance movies.
I'm writing a dance movie. A DANCE MOVIE version of captain planet.

When it's done I will convince Kenny Ortega and Nigel Lythgoe to produce it.

I fully expect Whoopie to reprise her role.

Megasus

@Jade I WOULD WATCH THIS

Chrestomanci

@Jade Can you please?! Who will play Captain Planet?

Angry Panda

@Jade I love dance movies and Captain Planet! I would also watch this! (love me, says my exclamation marks)

JadedStone

@Chrestomanci Who to play captain planet is really the only detail I'm still like 'hmm' about.
I've basically chosen people from ABDC/SYTYCD as the 'look'/dance style I want for each character. Sort of a 'pretend this person is doing this' thing.
And it makes SENSE you guys. 5 regions, 5 dance styles, and if you take the principles of tai chi that certain movements align with certain elements.. 5 great dancers are imbued with elemental powers that are unlocked through specific dance styles.

Then we apply rule 1 dance alchemy to merge their style and summon captain planet!

...I... just don't know who plays captain planet. It's tough to pull off a green mullet.

Megasus

@Jade omg it sounds brilliant!

KrakDaddy

@Jade Okay, I have never ever commented before because shy and all, but I reallyreallyreally for reals hope you are seriously writing this, because now I want to watch it.

JadedStone

@KrakDaddy aww! This makes me happy.

Umm.. yes. I am working on it. Now that I know there are other people who are like 'cool!' and not 'what?' I feel invigorated!

iknowright

I just wish they wouldn't call themselves The Mob. THERE IS ALREADY AN ORGANIZED GROUP CREATING THEIR OWN RULES AND FIGHTING AGAINST THEIR OWN OPPRESSION WITH THAT NAME. Pick another!

OhMarie

Has anyone seen Freak Dance, the movie by the UCB guys? It looks kind of terrible, but as a fan of both terrible comedy and terrible dance movies I will probably love it anyway.

Devushka

I just have to say how much I love Peter Gallagher, even though I have no idea why. He's just so bad/good in Center Stage. And the eyebrows certainly don't hurt!

Myrtle

@Devushka My hope is that The Eyebrows are someday allowed free rein in a part of their own. maybe he's a Friend of Gandalf?
Also I saw him shopping in a Victoria's Secret right before Valentine's Day, so, spin a little fantasy...

theotherginger

@Myrtle oh. my. gosh. you SAW him??? now I am having my own...

Myrtle

@robyn.andrews I have to quote an unremembered someone about seeing celebrities in the wild, "At first you think, 'Wasn't s/he my partner in science class in high school?'" It's a moment before the "Oh. Oh!" kicks in.

vernon hardapple

"more paint or rain" - so true.

alannaofdoom

ALSO THE MIA MICHAELS CAMEO. Which made me yelp in embarrassing delight in the theater.

OxfordComma

Moar dancing!
Less plot!
Moar dancing!
Less plot!

I feel about dance movies the way I'm sure some folks feel about porn: Shut the hell up and dance already.

Koko Goldstein

Peter Gallagher's eyebrows are a national treasure. They belong in a museum somewhere.

Koko Goldstein

Also I just want an excuse to talk about how wonderfully bad Center Stage is. I will always love it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1lF6D8frfw

catspajamas

@Koko Goldstein Totally agree! If Center Stage is on, I can't not watch. It doesn't matter if it is 5 minutes from the credits rolling or if I saw it last week. Also, I don't let it bother me that I do in fact own this movie on DVD.

Olive Banana

@Koko Goldstein Oh man! I'm posting like a week after the fact, my first ever post here, to say that my second cousin DIRECTED the first Step Up, and I saw it in theaters with my mother and aunts and my second cousin's mother, and then my aunt got all of us the DVD for Christmas...but Center Stage will always be my favorite cheesy dance movie.

gigihan

My wife is a professional dancer and she made me watch the Step up revolution movie with her, to be honest I got bored very fast. I like horror movies like House at the end of the street, my wife got really scared when watching this movie and in her opinion this is the best horror movies of all times.

linkaccu

These leads are, for better or (usually) worse, white, because obviously white people are solidly B+ dancers/make marketing executives less nervous. Debenhams Discount Code

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