Step Up 3D Wins the Dance Battle, Loses the Rest

I have a theory about dance movies — and I should, because I’ve seen most, if not all, of them. (And I’m including dance movies that aren’t, strictly speaking, dance movies, like Roll Bounce and Drumline.) It would be a guilty pleasure if I felt even remotely guilty about it. Listen: I’ve TiVo’d You Got Served. I have Breakin’ and Breakin’ 2 on DVD — and I’ve recently watched both. Anyway, my theory: all dance movies should only be 20 minutes long. Even more specifically, they should only be the last 20 minutes.

Because that’s all that matters, right? The lead-up to those last 20 minutes is mostly inconsequential, almost always poorly acted (the price of doing business when you hire people who dance first and act — well, I guess second, but it’s not really close), and wholly interchangeable. The dancers have to win some ultimate battle to get enough money to pay for something (usually a bank that’s ready to foreclose on their house or community center or something, but it could be, say, a drug dealer), and one of the dancers has to learn an important lesson along the way (usually something about friendship or loyalty). Sometimes, an authority figure also has to learn a lesson.

And that is pretty much that. Just give me an opening text crawl explaining what the particular stakes are — the banks are about to shut down Miracles, the local community center, and Kelly is torn between her parents and her street-dancing crew — and then bring on the dance sequence.

In the case of Step Up 3D — which more or less picks up where Step Up 2 the Streets left off, minus 90 percent of the cast — here is the situation heading into the last 20 minutes: House of Pirates, the crew led by wannabe filmmaker Luke (Ashton Kutcher clone Rick Malambri), is battling the rival House of Samurai at the World Jamm dance battle. The prize is $100,000, which the Pirates need to keep the bank away from The Vault, the ad hoc and sort of ridiculous dance academy started by Luke’s parents. Along the way, Moose (Step Up 2 holdover Adam Sevani) learns the value of being a good friend. And everyone learns the importance of dance. “One move can change the world,” Moose tells Luke. Indeed.

ANYWAY, I don’t think I’m blowing your mind by saying House of Pirates wins, and that the dance sequence that wins World Jamm for them is genuinely awesome. I could come up with a better word, but I’m not going to. Is it better than You Got Served‘s climatic battle? No. That is sort of like asking me if the last book I read was as good as the Bible or The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay. Ridiculous question. But it is amazing.

As for the other 87 minutes: Step Up 3D is partially crippled by the fact that, every 15 minutes or so, the filmmakers remember they are making a movie in 3D. And so one dance battle involves heavy (and inexplicable) use of talcum powder, and another continues (again, inexplicably) after a water pipe bursts, flooding the area, and leaving only House of Pirates capable of continuing their routine in the soggy conditions. Then, there is the ICEE scene, wherein Luke and love interest Natalie climb atop an exhaust vent and shoot purple and green streams of frozen beverage into the air, which then drifts out of the screen into the audience — for reasons I still can’t comprehend.

Even without the 3D element, there is the Luke problem. For one thing, he looks just like Ashton Kutcher, which is extremely distracting. For another, he is given to making over-earnest speeches about dance and filmmaking and loyalty and Natalie and pretty much everything else that crosses his mind. For yet another, the theme of several of these speeches (and the title of the movie he’s making) is “born from a boombox” — the idea that some people like to dance and others are, yes, born to. For even another thing, he has shortened the concept down to “B-FAB.” They have yet to invent a keyboard that would allow me to relay how insanely cringe-inducing this phrase sounds coming out of Malambri’s mouth. He could say “purple monkey dishwasher” and it would be less crazy.

But, like all dance movies, the last 20 minutes makes plowing through all of that worth it. Next time, though, I’ll just show up late. I doubt it’ll be hard to catch up.

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