Film Review: Step Up All InOne step forward, two steps back.
Suggesting that multiple encores might be overdoing it, the blandly titled and assembled Step Up All In is the fifth film in the street dance-powered series, the third in 3D—and its flattest use of the format yet—and also the third without the series’ only true star, Channing Tatum, whose combination of charisma and killer moves is again sorely missed. Never mind the fact that this directorial debut from Trish Sie, a music-video director and former competitive ballroom dancer, reunites stars from the four previous entries to try to compensate for that loss.
Almost cannibalistic in the way it seems to regurgitate not only the Fame and Save the Last Dance films, but also the previous Step Up films, this entirely vanilla dance celebration will do little to stop the series’ dwindling box-office returns stateside, though international success might keep it shimmying on for a little while longer. It will be released in the U.S. on Aug. 8, but this L.A.- and Las Vegas-set outing already has opened in several territories overseas, including France, where the franchise goes by the it-does-what-it-says-on-the-can moniker Sexy Dance.
Continuing the somewhat odd tradition of working with a new screenwriter for each film, Step Up All In was written by newcomer John Swetnam, who penned the upcoming tornado epic Into the Storm (opening Aug. 8)—which, coincidentally, also was shot by Step Up All In cinematographer Brian Pearson, who is new to the series.
That said, the film could have been written by a dance-movie plot generator, as it sees Sean (Ryan Guzman) lose his crew from Step Up: Revolution, the Mob, in a supposedly devastating dance-off with Jasper (Stephen "Stevo" Jones) and his Grim Knights, in an L.A. club. Humiliated and 43 days behind on rent—possibly the film's only realistically detailed touch—the Mobsters decide to go back to Florida. However, the stubborn Sean stays on in La-La Land, where he finds a job as a janitor at the dance hall of the immigrant grandparents of Moose (Adam Sevani, on board since Step Up 2: The Streets), who’s now an engineer shacking up with Camille (Alyson Stoner, from films one and three).
When Sean hears about a contest called The Vortex, hosted by a slippery, Lady Gaga-esque pop star (Poland-born Izabella Miko, the lead of Save the Last Dance 2), he just has to get a new crew together and compete, especially since the prize is a three-year Las Vegas contract. As if on command, Moose puts his professional commitments and love life aside, and a montage sequence introduces the other one-trait dancers (some of whom, including Chadd Smith, Mari Koda and Martin Lombard, have appeared in previous films). Once in Las Vegas, they have to face off against not only the Grim Knights, but also the Mob, Sean’s ex-crew.
It is unlikely that a lot of viewers come to see a Step Up film for convincing dialogue or psychological insight into a group of young things trying to make it big in a ruthless industry. But there’s barely any humor that doesn’t feel third-rate and most of the plot threads are so thin that All In occasionally feels like a satire of a dance film. There’s a telling moment when Moose groans, "Does everything have to end in a big, giant dance battle?" but it feels neither heartfelt—since all the emotions are recycled and dictated by plot needs rather than personalities—nor cleverly self-referential, as in the Jump Street films that Tatum now headlines.
The choreographers have the tricky task of devising each battle in a way that makes it obvious who the winner is without, during the losing routine, actually boring the audience, which just wants to see great dancing. But Step Up regular Jamal Sims and his crew of choreographers only manage to do this during the final battle, when pyrotechnics literally come to the rescue. Indeed, the most impressive scenes are the ones in which the dancing, mostly to hip-hop tunes, is subjugated to cool staging, such as in a Dr. Frankenstein-inspired routine, and often there’s too little to distinguish the good from the great crews, which makes it even harder to root for these already bland personalities.
The Ken Doll-hunky Guzman is again an insipid lead and his pairing with Andie (Briana Evigan, from Step Up 2 the Streets) is a classical opposites-attract story with little to no chemistry, negative or positive. Otherwise, the casting’s again refreshingly color-blind when it comes to race. And at least all of the actors can hold their own on the dance floor, with cinematographer Pearson often showcasing their prowess in wide shots that are edited together by Niven Howie into a spatially coherent whole. Use of 3D is fluent but adds next to nothing, except during the all-out finale. The standout below-the-line contribution comes from costume designer Soyon An, who, like a lot of the crew, is a “So You Think You Can Dance” alumnus.
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