Do you recall your innocent elementary school days in which punishment typically consisted of repeatedly writing out the same sentence on a chalkboard? This review of Step Up Revolution is probably the closest I’ll get to reliving that experience. As was the case with the previous three installments, here is a film where scenes of infectious music and fantastic choreography are strung together by the thinnest, most routine, most predictable, and most implausible of plots. It features characters that look hot and have great moves but are about as dimensional as a sheet of paper. With all those sexy bodies gyrating suggestively, you’d think that today’s filmmakers would have outgrown the simplicity and naivety of the Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney backyard musicals. More to the point, you’d think today’s audiences would be too cynical to actually buy into that kind of storytelling.
In spite of its formulaic approach, it separates itself from its predecessors in one crucial way; it regards dance not as a liberating form of self expression but as an upset to the natural order, and ultimately, as a means to a financial end. I didn’t think it was possible to create anarchy in the very capitalistic pursuit of money, but never mind; this movie doesn’t pause long enough to show any semblance of thought in this regard. It does, however, seek to do what the other films did, namely dazzle audiences with a succession of music video-like dance routines. Indeed, each number is a triumph of movement, editing, music, and special effects. Heaven help us, these scenes are even enlivened by the process of 3D. This does not mean, however, that you should splurge on your next trip to the theater. If you absolutely must see this film, stick to good old fashioned 2D.
A description of the plot will read like a laundry list of movie musical clichés. Taking place in Miami, we meet Sean (Ryan Guzman), the leader of a streetwise dance crew called The Mob. As the name suggests, he and his team specialize in staging elaborate flash mobs; in the course of this film, we will see them perform unscheduled, disruptive dance routines on a busy stretch of highway, in a museum, in a restaurant, in the lobby of a hotel, and on a construction site, all the while employing stunts, practical effects, costume changes, and even illegal street art, the latter of which acts as their calling card. They have someone film their routines with various hidden cameras, usually camcorders or smart phones. The footage is uploaded onto YouTube, which is currently holding a contest for which user will get 10,000,000 views the fastest. The winner will receive $100,000 and a major sponsorship opportunity. Needless to say, Sean and The Mob have their eyes on the prize.
As he pursues his dream of instant cash and fleeting fame, Sean waits tables at a restaurant in an upscale resort. Into his life enters Emily (Kathryn McCormick), who has a dream of her own: To be accepted into a prestigious dance academy. As it so happens, she’s also the daughter of the resort’s owner, a wealthy real estate tycoon named Bill Anderson (Peter Gallagher). Emily and Sean inevitably begin a romance, one that walks the line between puppy love and a passionate affair. She’s also drawn into becoming a part of The Mob, all the while maintaining a code of silence regarding whose daughter she is. Likely to take it especially hard would be Sean’s best friend since childhood, Eddie (Misha Gabriel), who doubles as The Mob’s computer nerd and site hacker. True to the spirit of the 1950s, he believes a guy should never choose a chick over his buddy.
Anyway, Emily is taken to Sean’s neck of the woods, a lower income area that teems with music and life. The popular hangout is a Latin jazz bar operated by a sweet old man named Ricky (Mario Ernesto Sanchez). And wouldn’t you know it, Emily’s father is one of those greedy corporate meenies who wants to tear down the bar and develop it into a new luxury resort. He doesn’t care that it will mean the loss of jobs and the displacement of an entire community. Emily, still trying to keep her identity a secret, suggests that The Mob stop trying to get hits on YouTube and start using dance as a form of protest. If this were an MGM backyard musical, this would be the point at which Mickey Rooney would say something like, “I know! Let’s put on the show right here!” Clearly, they had very different ways of sticking it to the man seventy years ago.
All the expected dramas will crop up. Sean and Eddie will fight, Sean and Emily will break up, Sean will split from The Mob in sheer frustration, and Emily will find herself torn between her dreams and her loyalty to her father, who wants her to work for him. Will everything work out in the end? I hope you’re not seriously contemplating the answer to that question. I honestly didn’t think movies like Step Up Revolution were made anymore. Forget about the occasional use of mild language, the risqué dance moves, and the fact that all the lead characters look as if they spend every waking moment in a gym; the style may be modern, but the spirit of this movie is as old as the golden age of cinema, when innocuous entertainment was expected and welcomed. We don’t live in that age anymore. The sooner the producers of this series realize this, the better off they will be.
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