Film Review: Step Up 3D

The second sequel to 2006’s 'Step Up' is an even mix of innovative dance and clichéd drama.

When we last saw young Moose (Adam G. Sevani) in Step Up 2: The Streets, he was a lanky caterpillar discovering his inner butterfly through dancing. Now he’s starting his freshman year at NYU and majoring in electrical engineering so his parents will be happy. And when we last saw his best friend, Camille (Alyson Stoner), in Step Up, she was the just the bratty kid sister of hunky Tyler Gage, who was rescued from the thug life by, yes, the redemptive power of dance. (Channing Tatum, who played Tyler in both of the earlier movies, apparently declined to return for a third go-round.) Camille is also going to NYU, where she’s studying, well, who knows what… the point is that she’s there so Moose can repeatedly stand her up when he’s drawn back into the world of competitive stepping by the charismatic Luke (Rick Malambri).

Luke, a second-generation hoofer, is the benevolent patriarch of the House of Pirates, a crew of formerly homeless street dancers who live together in the industrial-chic Brooklyn warehouse Luke inherited from his parents, back-up dancers who created a place where any dancer could shine like a star. Luke is preserving their legacy, though he secretly yearns to be a filmmaker. The snake in this little Eden is trust-fund creep Julien (Joe Slaughter), who’s determined to crush them with his own crew at the upcoming World Jam street-dance competition. Luke is equally determined to lead the Pirates to victory, in part because the $100,000 prize could keep his building out of foreclosure. That’s why he’s aggressively recruiting fresh talent like Moose and Natalie (Sharni Vinson), whose blend of hip-hop sass and classical training is so mesmerizing that Luke never bothers to ask about her past.

Yes, Step Up 3D is about plucky poor folks saving their home from the sleazy machinations of evil rich guys. It’s also about following your dreams, trusting your heart and standing up for your family—your real family, who aren’t necessarily your kin. So, no, there isn’t an original plot twist in Step Up 3D, any more than there are convincing characters.

But the dancing is dynamite, and director Jon Chu (returning from Step Up 2) knows to pull out all the stops when the crews hit the floor. Like most contemporary filmmakers, he’s overly reliant on fast cuts to keep the energy level up, with one notable exception. Set to the 1934 Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein standard “I Won’t Dance,” it sets Moose and Camille to dancing their hearts out on a pretty New York side street, incorporating taxis, brownstone steps and various props—hats, scooters, trashcan lids—they appropriate as they go. Shot in a series of extended long shots, it’s a terrific mix of the traditional (the sailors’ street number from On the Town is an obvious inspiration) and the contemporary. Camille and Moose may be creating their own little world through dance, but they can’t keep the real world out, and it’s full of pissed-off pedestrians who want their stuff back, home owners who shoo those damned capering teens off their sidewalk, and snotty kids just waiting to scream “You suck!” It's thoroughly charming and tailor-made for YouTube.