Directed by: Jon Chu
Starring: Briana Evigan, Robert Hoffman, Adam G. Sevani, Will Kemp
Before becoming a film critic, my exposure to dance movies was relegated to a VHS copy of Dirty Dancing (1987) that my sister watched repeatedly when we were young. But now that Ken Hanke sticks me with watching every single dance movie that comes to theaters (Ken would say it’s luck; I say he’s a sadist), I’ve somehow become some sort of expert when it comes to the underdog-dance flick. This is unfortunate, since I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the target audience for these movies, seeing as I’m about as arrhythmic as they come. But then again, shouldn’t the barometer for a good movie be making the audience care about something they normally wouldn’t?
In any case, our latest foray into the wild and wooly world of dance comes in the form of Jon Chu’s Step Up 2 the Streets, the sequel to 2006’s surprise hit Step Up. I’m sure the film is meant to raise the bar of the dance movie, even if it lacks exploding car windows à la last month’s How She Move. But the best Chu seems to be able to come up with is having people dance in the rain, and I’m sure Gene Kelly would have something to say about the novelty of that. Otherwise, the film is your standard “no one believed in us but ourselves” little-guy flick mixed in with a message about the unifying power of dance. Then again, there is the peculiar aspect of affluent rich kids being the underdogs and attempting to make it to the top.
The plot follows Andie (Briana Evigan), a troubled teen whose mother has passed away, causing her to skip school and do such horrendous things as dancing inside subway trains. Apparently, dancing on trains in Baltimore is akin to terrorism (at least judging by the in-film news report of people freaking out about such goings on), so Andie is sent off to the Maryland School of Art to study dance. Of course, she immediately doesn’t fit in. But with the help of school dreamboat Chase (Robert Hoffman, She’s the Man) and nerdy outcast and Duckie-clone Moose (Adam G. Sevani), she forms her own dance crew of social misfits. This is all so the movie can climax with a duel between Andie’s crew and her former friends who threw her off their team, from which we learn that life is not about who you are or where you’re from, but how well you can dance.
It’s no surprise that the movie’s screenwriters, Tori Ann Johnson and Karen Barna, are from the world of television, since the movie is mired in the kind of formulaic teenage melodrama that’s right at home on the small screen. At the same time, Step Up 2 takes all this soapy mush seriously, though this does create the film’s high point, involving rival dancer Tuck (Black Thomas), upon finding a dead fish hidden inside his apartment, exclaiming “Clean this fish up!” in the most awkwardly straight-faced, stern way imaginable. It’s such a sublimely awful moment that if there’s any righteousness in this world, people would forget about “I drink your milkshake” and dedicate Web sites and T-shirts to “Clean this fish up!”
In the end, Step Up 2 is a cash grab in every sense of the phrase, from its status as a sequel to its existence as a means to simply sell copies of its soundtrack. This doesn’t mean it’s without its audience. People who love music videos, but wish they were 20 times longer, finally have a movie to get behind. Rated PG-13 for language, some suggestive material and brief violence.