A girl. A guy. A ragtag but devoted and immensely talented group of dancers with varied styles and talents. Impressively toned bodies. Breathtakingly athletic moves. Even more breathtakingly sensuous moves. A conflict. A misunderstanding. A pep talk. “We’re going to need a lot more people.” More people. Confrontation. Apology. More dancing!
There isn’t much new in this fourth entry in the “Step Up” series beyond the Miami setting and slightly older characters. What began as a series about teenagers and with #3 took the characters to college is now about people in their 20’s. The performers are different but pretty much interchangeable with the equally bland stars of the previous entry. But why waste any energy on the script and performances when we’re really there to see the dancing? Each new episode wisely devotes less attention to the story and more attention to the dancing.
And the dancing just gets better with every entry. This one leads off with a cheeky flash mob on a busy Miami street that is so joyously kinetic even the cars leap up to get into the act. Sean (Ryan Guzman) is a waiter at an upscale resort whose “Mob” is competing for the most views on YouTube. If they can just beat out the cute cat video, they can win the $100,000 prize. So they stage elaborate surprise dance numbers in hopes of attracting attention. Another is a truly spectacular event staged at a swanky museum gala with dancers camouflaged as parts of the paintings and sculpture so that they seem to bloom out of some magical garden of art.
With a nod to “Dirty Dancing,” Sean meets Emily (Kathryn McCormick) at a bar on the beach that is off-limits for the hotel staff. He thinks she is on the staff, too, and he asks her to dance. With a nod to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and just about every movie about dancers, they challenge each other, show off a little, recognize how beautifully their rhythms synch, and are vastly more eloquent with their bodies than they are when they are talking. One major departure from “Step Up 3:” in that one, the guy does not discover that the girl is from a rich, snooty family until 3/4 of the way through the movie. In this one, he discovers it right away but does not let his friends find out until 3/4 of the way through.
When Emily’s father announces that he is going to build a fancy new resort that would displace Sean and everyone he cares about, Sean and his best friend Eddy (Misha Gabriel) decide “It’s not okay to make art for fun anymore. Enough with performance art; it’s time to make protest art.” Protest art turns out to look a lot like fun art and both apparently require equally determined facial expressions, pretty much the only facial expressions anyone seems to be able to muster. But the dance numbers are brilliantly staged and filmed. A protest dance with gas masks and faux tear gas inadvertently but eerily echoing last week’s “Dark Knight” shooting in Colorado. It is thrilling to see Director of Photography Crash (yes, that’s his name) take full advantage of the 3D technology to amp up the energy and, yes, wit — especially the museum dance, a number with suits, fedoras, newspapers and coffee to mock the developers and politicians, and a rousing finale that brings back #3 star Adam G. Sevani (“Moose”) and Mari Koda of #2 and #3. We sorely miss Alyson Stoner and the Lombard twins, perhaps one more reason to look forward to Chapter 5.
Parents should know that this film includes some sensual dance movies and brief strong and crude language (b-word, etc.)
Family discussion: Who was right, Sean or Eddy? Why? What is the best way for the residents and the corporation to work together?
If you like this, try: the other “Step Up” movies and the documentary about competitive dancers, Rize