1. I love Alyson Stoner.
2. I love old tyme-y musicals.
3. Alyson Stoner has a Fred-and-Ginger-inspired duet - two and a half minutes of dancing with no cuts - in Step Up 3D.
Clearly, I had to see this film. Especially when I learned that it contained parkour dancing, not to mention some familiar faces from So You Think You Can Dance, from back when I cared.
And, well. It was pretty dreadful.
(Warning: This is long, and highly opinionated.)
The plot kicks off with Moose (Adam G. Sevani) and Camille (Alyson) at their freshman orientation at NYU. Apparently they are lifelong best friends, even though they didn't even appear in the same previous Step Up movies (she was in #1, he was in #2). She is also obviously in love with him.
When Moose accidentally gets into a dance battle with a member of the Samurai dance crew, he is witnessed by Luke (Rick Malambri), who helps him flee the Samurais and cops. Abandoning Alyson, he gets into Luke's car and lets Luke drive him to Brooklyn (after taking an enormous detour uptown to Times Square, for some reason) and take him to his warehouse in an abandoned district. There, Luke kills Moose and takes his wallet and any organs he can sell on the black market.
No, that's just what would happen in real life. In Step Up 3D-land, the warehouse is full of dancers! In a super-cool funky crib! They have a giant wall made of boomboxes! And another wall full of expensive sneakers! But they have NO MONEY. Uh-oh! Luke (who owns three computers and an expensive camera) explains to Moose that he needs him to help their crew, the Pirates, win the upcoming World Jam. He also recruits the sexy but mysterious Natalie (Sharni Vinson). They must defeat Samurai House, or the bank will foreclose on their mortgage and they'll be out on the streets! Also, it's a matter of pride, since Luke has a rivalry with Julien (Joe Slaughter), head of Samurai House.
Luke and Natalie train together, and also fall in love, as you might imagine. Meanwhile, Moose consistently ditches both school (but this is apparently not an issue, because he's never penalized for it) and Alyson in order to dance. But it turns out that Natalie is Julien's sister, and he planted her as a mole! And the bank forecloses! And they're homeless! Oh noes!
Luckily, Moose comes to the rescue, since he apparently knows the people who run the arcade at Coney Island? The Pirates live and practice there, and Moose brings in some of his old high school crew to replace a few members who've deserted for Samurai House. World Jam arrives, and a guilty Natalie springs onto the stage at the last minute to help them win. Then she reveals that she sent in an application to some film school on behalf of amateur documentarist Luke, and they go off to California together. On the train. Um. These characters aren't smart.
Okay. First off, there is not a single good actor in the entire movie. Alyson is one of the better ones, and she's at best mediocre. Luke and Julien are so bad that whenever they delivered Important Dialogue, I cracked up. Moose was slightly better, but so mealymouthed I could barely understand half his lines. It didn't help that they were working with a stupid and incoherent script, in which no one ever spoke or acted like real people, ever.
But more importantly, everyone was terrible. The entire Pirate House seemed to feel like they were entitled to live in their enormous warehouse/club with awesome expensive decor and hundreds of pairs of sneakers without ever working. Once they lose the warehouse, we get about three minutes of Luke being an incompetent, reluctant waiter, who eventually flips out on a customer who just wants his damn coffee. Moose, meanwhile, acknowledges the sacrifices that his parents made to get him into NYU, but is completely unwilling to make any of his own - and Luke appears to be actively attempting to get Moose to fail out of school so that he'll be available full-time to dance. I don't care if dancing is your passion, boys, YOU STILL HAVE TO WORK. I'd love to kick back in my awesome warehouse and sit around and write for funsies, but I also don't expect a bank to bend over backwards holding my amazing property open for me on the off-chance that I might win the money to pay five months backrent. There's even the implication that Luke's parents owned the property outright, which means Luke took out a second mortgage so that he could host a bunch of transient dancing bums and their stupid expensive hobbies. No, sorry, my sympathy is actually with the guy who's going to pay money for the property, even if he is doing it with his trust fund. This artiste-who-refuses-to-work attitude may have flown in the 90s, but this isn't RENT. Get a damn job.
On top of that, all of Moose's dances seem to involve wanton property destruction and theft. In his original battle he knocks a street seller's merchandise onto the ground so that he can dance on the guy's table, then breaks a balloon seller's helium tank and releases hundreds of his balloons (which is why he has to run from the cops). In the second qualifying round for the World Jam, he somehow manages to break the pipes under the stage (???), which leads to a cool "dancing in water" effect, but seriously, that's thousands of dollars of repair money, you dick. In his duet with Alyson, he steals some guy's hat. YOU ARE NOT CHARMING. YOU ARE AN OBNOXIOUS MENACE. STOP IT.
Oh, and did I mention that all four leads and the villain are white? Luke in particular seems fresh out of an Abercrombie ad. Yeah, I figured hip-hop and breaking was for white people to angst their way through against a background of cryptically wise (or ferociously violent) black people, helpful (or sinister) Asians, and comical, girl-crazy Latinos.
I will say that all of the dancing was superb (though the parkour was seriously lacking), and, as you might imagine, absolutely the reason to see this movie. That said, the cinematography around it was dreadful. This isn't a music video, this is a movie that is supposed to be a) featuring dancers, and b) telling a story through dance. I'm not saying you can move the camera or make cuts, but the camera should be an equal partner in the dance. Take the title song from Singin' in the Rain:
This is not a solo. It's a duet between dancer and camera, done so unobtrusively and naturally that you don't even notice the camera. Watch at 3:23 as the music crescendos and Gene leaps into the street and spins huge circles; the camera pulls back as he goes to show you how big his emotion is, how the joyousness of the dance is pouring out of him and taking over the street. Step Up 3D has no understanding of the relationship between camera and dancer. Cuts seem to be made because, eh, we haven't had a cut in a while, why not here? And the camera placement is mindbogglingly dumb. If you're showing breaking, shouldn't you show the floor? A pair of legs flailing in the air isn't really that impressive if we can't see the upper body holding them up. At another point the dancers carry Alyson forward on their shoulders, and her head is cut off by the top of the screen. Seriously? SERIOUSLY? Brilliant things could have been done with this frenetic, powerful dancing and the use of 3D, and you're cutting off people's heads. Jesus.
(Um. I have strong feelings about musicals. You might recall my screed against High School Musical, back when we started this blog. But I'm right, dammit!)
The only time the camera works with the dancers instead of against them is in the duet between Moose and Alyson, which is a modern, hip-hoppish remix of "I Won't Dance" (I can't find him singing it on YouTube, but here, have him and Ginger dancing to a reprise in my favorite of their movies). There are no cuts, as I mentioned before, and so the camera is allowed to just follow them up and down a New York street, sweeping around them as they move, celebrating the spontaneous joy of the dance.
And the dance itself! Partnered musical-theater-inspired hip-hop! I wanted to grab the number out of the movie and show it to everyone who thinks the musical is dead, because it's a brilliant blend of old and new that springs completely naturally out of a conversation, incorporates the environment as they slide along on trash can lids and swing on gates, and moves the story along. It's a modern dance that does what old-fashioned musical dances did. And it's so good.
(I admit that this cinematography wouldn't work for a hard-hitting battle scene. But it's at least a step in the right direction, in that you can see all of both dancers the whole time. What a novelty!)
In conclusion, there's a kernel of brilliance and potential in Step Up 3D, mostly thanks to the enormous dance talent they've managed to assemble in one movie, but they've failed to nurture that brilliance into something that could transform the genre, and it gets almost completely lost under terrible acting and an idiotic script about awful people. I will impatiently await the day Alyson's number appears on YouTube, but other than that, I am going to do my best to forget everything about this movie, starting...now.