Coming off like some wild, two-bit half hour slice of late night zealotry on public access television, Step Up 3D is quite possibly the least self-aware film I have ever seen. It gushes about dance moves changing the world, about step battles setting an entire generation free, all the while, thrusting, gyrating, twisting and shimmying with a lunatic confidence only known to naïve idealists and the few people who really have figured it all out. This brash devotion to the power of dance is, in all honesty, confounding, and it has forced me to wonder if maybe a well-placed Charleston really can set us all free. Then I remember this film is called Step Up 3D, and it’s not only probable but entirely likely, it really is just full of shit.
Moose (Adam G. Sevani) has given up on dancing. Together with his best friend Camille (Alyson Stoner), he heads off to NYU to major in Engineering, determined to put this whole sordid Salsa business behind him. Unfortunately, dance battles just have a way of finding you, and within a few hours on campus, Moose is beating back that beat against a ghettoed out WASP (Joe Slaughter) who has no intention of going quietly into the good jive. Before you know it, the bubbles come out, balloons soar into the air, and the 5-0 is hot on the trail of cold-hearted felon/ dancer Moose. Wrong place at the wrong time. Could have happened to any of us.
Luckily, amateur filmmaker and B-FAB (more on this later) Luke (Rick Malambri) was also witness to the hip-hop dance-off, and he enlists Moose to join the Pirates, a ragtag mob of dancers who neither pillage nor have scurvy. Now, this is where the hokey-pokey pulls the dominant foot out. Turns out these Pirates are dancemies with that WASP from earlier. His name is Julien. He’s trying to buy Luke’s club/dance studio/ house/ vault because he was kicked out of the Pirates for intentionally throwing a groove battle at the behest of some gamblers, a claim he denies. Yes, like Shoeless Joe Jackson. I suspect they pointed the finger at Julien because he’s not B-FAB. That’s Born-From-A-Boombox; he’s Born-From-A-Trust-Fund, which inconveniently doesn’t lend itself to being initialized (more on that later).
You could probably guess where it goes from here except that I haven’t told you about the female lead yet. Her name is Natalie (Shami Vinson), and she’s trying to convince Luke to go to film school, that is after they begin dating and assemble a team to face Julien’s in an upcoming one hundred thousand dollar dance off. The Pirates need to win to save their club/ dance studio/ house; Julien just wants to win because he’s B-FAT-F, and that’s what B-Fat-F’s do.
I’d like to complain about how no one seems to realize how ridiculous or convenient this 100K contest is, but as I’ve pointed out before, Step Up 3D isn’t the type to look at the big picture. Like Lady Gaga, it just dances and knows it’ll all be okay, a reasonable wager considering I alone paid three extra dollars for its third dimension. Still more of an annoying nuisance than worthwhile endeavor, Step Up 3D’s 3D is occasionally interesting during a few of those hip-hop battles you’ve been hearing so much about, but on the whole, it serves only to make it seem like one of the people talking is slightly closer to you than the other. Technology, like dance, clearly is making a difference.
I don’t really get dancing. It strikes me as a whole lot of work for, at best, a skanky ending, but I do get a little bit about the difference between a hobby and an all-consuming obsession, at least on film. Step Up 3D is about dancing. Its characters are dancers, its choreographers are dancers, the majority of its viewers will likely be dance enthusiasts. Even its frame of reference is rhythmic. It is obsessed with the obsession of dance. It’s so far inside the monkey house, there’s no point in even telling the poor bastards involved they’ve stepped in shit. “Some people who don’t know, you can’t tell ‘em.” My advice, for the filmmakers, for most of the actors, would be to stop being dinosaurs and get real fucking jobs, but what the hell do I know? This movie wasn’t made for me. I was born in the suburbs and have rocked the iPod since high school. Boom boxes are as goofy to me as trying to change the world with breakdancing.