Originally published on This Is Film
It’s an event as inevitable and anticipated as Christmas and the Oscars – the next Step Up movie. Every two years in the last days of winter, dance movie tragics the world over, such as myself, make the pilgrimage to the cinema to see the newest crop of amazing, sometimes hi-tech, dances from a bunch of good looking people that never fail to make you leave the cinema exhilarated and empowered to SAVE THE WORLD THROUGH DANCE (which I am sad to say I haven’t yet done).
These biannual tales of extremely talented people who are all intertwined and always seem to work out a way to have better effects that anyone else despite their meagre funds always start and revolve around relatively the same idea – how dancing makes people feel. It makes the rejection, the pain, the sacrifice worthwhile, all for that brief time of exhilaration and total immersion in an utter passion. It’s something that is wonderfully potent in each instalment, even though the exploration of the real issues that come with this is relatively skim deep.
But this is Step Up. They’re not setting out to produce hyper realism or hard-hitting drama. They’re not setting out to make the movie of the year. They don’t even intend to make a great movie. They’re pure entertainment, and don’t pretend to be anything else. And that’s what I love about them. That’s exactly what it is – It’s one of the most entertaining movies I’ve seen this year. It may be relatively the same beats every time – rival crew, broken friendship/family in said rival crew, relationship that is torn between the dancing and life etc – but with it continuously setting itself new bars to jump over in terms of quality and spectacle of the choreography and the introduction of newbies and return of some familiar faces (my screening loved it when some of the characters from #2 and 3 appeared), it always, somehow, feels fresh. It’s the most reliable studio series ever. It’s always excellently entertaining. The makers behind these wonderfully plotless vehicles know exactly what the audience is coming out for – some epic dance sequences – and always deliver in spades. They realise that they key to success is not bucket loads of heavy plotting, because that’s exactly how movies like this fail. Step Up has never taken itself too seriously (except the previous one with all the environmental stuff was a bit concerning, but the end more than made up for it).
In this fifth instalment, its become so wonderfully aware of its camp outrageousness and the space it occupies in certain peoples’ viewing calendars that it takes the amazing camp outrageousness to the next level. This time, we’ve moved from Miami and amazing YouTube flashmob environmental activism and last-minute sponsorship deals to Los Angeles, shady alliances, flamboyant ballroom dance coaches that is one of the best ‘characters’ this series has given, more dance families and mega crews, and three year Vegas contracts. Sadly, there’s no Peter Gallagher fulfilling his duties as a corporate guy/mean dad/ballet school head this time (he’s always a nice fixture), but there is still more than enough fun to be found here. Barely 5 minutes goes by without a dance scene. There’s a hammy reality show host that you immediately create a suburban double life backstory for that wears plastic dresses and her hair glued to her chest. Moose is an engineer and lives in a crazily beautiful apartment (given his age and his presumably new engineering job) in front of the Hollywood sign with Camille, and has grandparents that own a ballroom dance studio. THE ROBOT GUY ACTUALLY GETS SOME STORY. And it’s a lot funnier than any of the others, which is a definite bonus and makes up for the fact that, yes, this can basically be interpreted as the story of #3 all over again.
But it delivers, more than enough, reaching new heights (movies like this definitely have heights, guys). It may have helped that I saw it with one of the best audiences ever, but it has all the ingredients to make it an albeit forgettable but wildly entertaining watch: constant killer dance sequences (this time in science labs and more cool places!) with some excellent technology that I would love to know how they found, not even attempting to create a large plot or much character depth (which, in movies like these that I just see for crazy fun, I’d rather than half-heartedness. All or nothing, please) and enough comedy and poking fun at itself that the whole film has laughter scattered throughout. It’s the perfect, reliable, and always loveable mix that these feature length music videos/dance reels have perfected.
Step Up, I’ll always come back for more of your outrageous fun. See you in two years.
P.S. Can the next movie just be their show for two hours? Please?