There’s really not much to say about a picture like Step Up Revolution, the fourth of its name. If anything, I admire it for daring to be anything more than a movie about Kids With Dreams striving to realize those dreams, though that’s not saying much. Like the other Step Up films, and last year’s remake of Footloose, Step Up Revolution has one raison d’êtere, and that’s to thrill audiences with great dancing in increasingly elaborate dance numbers. Judged on that criteria alone, the film succeeds as a light, well-intentioned but charmingly dopey crowd-pleaser. Just don’t go in expecting the elements of civil disobedience captured in the marketing to add up to anything substantive.
Step Up Revolution‘s set-up is simple: Miami is home to the MOB, a group of young people who routinely organize and perform superbly choreographed, extremely intricate flash mobs across the city. They’re bent on obtaining a sponsorship opportunity via social media (one of their members films each dance and posts them on YouTube), aspiring to attain little else beyond increased exposure and the glory that comes with being recognized as one of the best. All that changes when an influential real estate magnate (Peter Gallagher) rolls into town with plans to demolish the MOB’s neighborhood. What’s a dance crew to do but put their fancy footwork to good use and turn performance art into– drum roll– protest art?
You’ve probably heard that line through advertising campaigns, and it’s no less ridiculous in context than out. But that overtly hammy sentiment is mitigated greatly by the fact that Step Up Revolution doesn’t bear any delusions about its identity. The film knows it’s humorously melodramatic. In fact, it all but says as much outright in the final, climactic dance sequence, where our heroes attempt to save the day through the power of break dancing unity. That certainly doesn’t erase the film’s rampant, unabashed, downright earnest silliness– it barely masks that characteristic– but it makes it much more palatable as a movie-going experience.
And that’s to say nothing of the dancing, which is by and large eye-popping. One might make the argument that film isn’t the best studio space for performance art of this sort; the camera puts distance between the audience and the integrity of the dancers, so we can’t really be sure how much of what we’re seeing is unadulterated physical prowess and how much can be chalked up to cinematic trickery. However much of what the camera portrays is real, it all looks great, and we know enough to know that these are real dancers executing real routines and movements. If they’re aided by the magic of editing and cinematography, so be it.
More than anything the big set pieces are supported by wonderful concepts and designs; every dance here has its own identity. Whether the MOB is throwing down in the middle of a crowded street, taking a page from the surreal abstractions of Cirque Du Soleil in a high-end fine arts’ museum, or infiltrating business culture in the middle of the work day, Step Up Revolution creates a visual separation between each dance number and gives them all their own character. The costuming, set creation, and thematic drives behind the film’s numerous dances prove to be as alluring and compelling as the dancing is spectacular.
That’s a really convoluted way of saying, “you’ll never be bored while watching Step Up Revolution“, and I’m as surprised at my sentiment as anyone else could be. But the film works. Grant that it works only as it is designed to; Scott Speer’s film isn’t as interested in opening up real discourse about the true meaning of civic responsibility or the better merits of protest movements, even though we live in a time when young people united in protest are beginning to impel change all over the world. If Step Up Revolution had taken those ideas really seriously, and actually taken time to fully explore them, I would consider it a serious coup– movies like this don’t usually get to speak to broad social issues in the way this film does. That Speer even thinks for a second on them is somewhat impressive, but neither he nor his cast will earn any accolades for pushing discussions of cultural revolution forward whatsoever.
It’s not possible to mistake Step Up Revolution for a thought piece. But it’s also quite possible to enjoy it as self-aware schlock, since the movie all but invites us to perceive it on that level. That’s definitely not a hallmark of great cinema, but there are worse endeavors than dance exhibitions wrapped in hokey, over-dramatic shells, especially when the moves on display are this solid. Step Up Revolution is a mess, but you’ll have a great time watching it.