Somewhere in between "Fame" and "DeGrassi High" is Step Up, a teen dance flick that dares to go where many have gone before. The movie doesn't offer anything we haven't seen, but it doesn't fall flat on its face either. Watered down Save The Last Dance meets Take the Lead sans Antonion Banderas' charm, it's a movie that teenage dancers and hip hop lovers can embrace. The rest of us can sit back and tolerate the mediocre drama while taking in the dazzling dance numbers.
Tyler Gage (Channing Tatum) is a product of the foster care system of Baltimore, Maryland. He's never had much to hold on to and his talent for dancing is wasted on late night, back street parties. A penchant for petty crime lands him doing community service at the Maryland School of Art, an eclectic place where the next K Fed might be found dancing and mixing tracks across the hall from the next Yo Yo Ma.
While serving out his hours as an assistant janitor at the school, he crosses paths with Nora (Jenna Dewan), a dance student. Her senior performance piece has hit the rocks and desperation drives her to take on Tyler as a partner. At first her traditional dance style and his street moves grate against each other like nails on chalkboard. With a little understanding, though, they blend their styles into a whole new dance routine. Add in Nora's dancer/singer friend Lucy (Drew Sidora), fellow student and master music mixer Miles (Mario) and by their powers combined they are one hot dance number.
Split them apart however and things get a little rickety. Dewan and Tatum share the kind of chemistry that only a teenage girl could buy into, much less love. When the friends are shuffled into various dramatic combinations, the acting degrades into the stuff of the old Saturday morning specials. To the movie's credit, the situations the characters find themselves in lead to valuable, if not predictable, life lessons. The feel good moments are built in and help, in part, to save the floundering drama.
Step Up relies far too heavily on character types we've seen before. If this is your first foray into the realm of teen dance dramas you might not notice, but otherwise expect it to be a little annoying. From Nora's stuck-up, pop idolish boyfriend to Tyler's troublemaking best friend, right down to the tag along, begging-to-be-killed-in-a-drive-by-shooting little brother, the movie is crammed full of people and scenarios borrowed shamelessly from other films. The adult characters are by far the worst, but given the movie's target audience it no doubt pays to keep the grown-ups as stereotypical as possible. The worst part about these pseudo-stock characters is how easy it is to guess what their part is in the story. It's kind of hard to be shocked by or scared for them when you've got a pretty good idea of what their going to do next and how things are going to work out.
Long time choreographer and first time director Anne Fletcher seems a little lost her first time behind the camera. While her eye for choreography produces some impressive dance sequences (some that even wander into the Bollywood realm), her movie regularly loses momentum and at times gets downright tedious. For someone who has a lot of experience with movement, she seems to struggle to keep her film moving towards its final destination.
To the movie's credit, it doesn't pander to the current popularity of Channing Tatum's "hotness". She's The Man had the teen and tween girl demographics aflutter with the actor's naked chest. He may not offer much in the way of a strong performance in this movie, but I give Fletcher credit for keeping Tatum's shirt on throughout the entire film. The girls may be disappointed with that choice, but there's plenty of him and the rest of his twenty-something cast mates students gyrating to hip hop to keep the My Space gang smiling.
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