“Enough with performance art,” someone says in “Step Up Revolution.” “It’s time for protest art!” Yes, at long last, the street dancers at the center of this energetic but silly franchise will use their terpsichorean skills not just to delight onlookers but to effect social change. No longer will they dance purely for art’s sake! Now it is time for a revolution — a revolution OF DANCE!
Most film series have run out of ideas by the time they get to their fourth entry, but not “Step Up.” These confections — “Step Up,” “Step Up 2 the Streets,” and “Step Up 3D” — have been filled with impressive, exuberant dance numbers separated by dumb, forgettable non-dancing scenes. (Full disclosure: I didn’t see “Step Up 3D.” My understanding is that it was more of the same.) “Step Up Revolution” continues with that formula, yet also finds new ways to be stupid, ways that the prior films only dreamed of.
The setting this time is Miami, where a group of enigmatic young dancers known as The Mob are gaining notoriety for their “flash mob” appearances, in which they suddenly break into a pre-rehearsed routine in a public place for the amusement and bafflement of bystanders. The Mob’s only agenda is the one you’d expect: they want to be famous. They’ve entered a YouTube contest wherein the first video to break 10 million views wins $100,000. Of course, there are about a dozen people in The Mob, so after taxes each person would get something like $5,000, which is hardly a fortune, but whatever.
The Mob’s leader is Sean (newcomer Ryan Guzman), a talented, 20-ish dancer whose day job is waiting tables at a posh beachside resort along with his best buddy and fellow Mobster Eddy (Misha Gabriel). The Mob also includes a visual artist who incorporates the words “The Mob” into each act of public dancing; a DJ who provides musical accompaniment (though I’m pretty sure just pressing “play” on an iPhone plugged into the sound system would suffice); and a videographer who captures the entire performance, from many different angles, on his one hidden camcorder.
There are two mysteries surrounding The Mob. One is expressed by a local newscaster: “Who is The Mob? What is this all about?” The other mystery, not spoken aloud by anyone, is who cares?
OK, there is a third mystery. How are the members of The Mob all anonymous when their faces are clearly visible in the broad-daylight videos of themselves that they post on YouTube? And why do they WANT to be anonymous? Contrary to what the movie, in its childlike understanding of how the world works, would have you believe, it is not actually against the law to dance in public in Miami.
Anyway, enough about The Mob. Let’s talk about the movie’s paint-by-numbers romance! Sean falls for a new girl at the resort, Emily (Kathryn McCormick), a dancer of the more traditional school who’s trying out for an elite company headed by a woman played by “So You Think You Can Dance” judge Mia Michaels. Emily’s father — you’re never gonna believe this, but hang on — her father (Peter Gallagher) is the OWNER of the posh resort! And he’s a land developer who wants to turn Sean and Eddy’s old Cuban-influenced neighborhood into another resort!!
Against Eddy’s objections, Sean lets Emily (who opposes her father’s actions) join The Mob. Eddy responds by making Emily the lead dancer in the next event. (It doesn’t make sense in context either.) Why does Emily want to join the group? Because her fancy dance lady told her she needs to loosen up a bit, and Sean’s style of street-dancing might be just the ticket. Or, as expressed in this dialogue:
EMILY: I can’t just do whatever I want. There are rules!
SEAN: (intensely, as he draws her close to him) Break the rules.
All of the film’s choreography (credited to Chuck Maldonado, Jamal Sims, and Christopher Scott) is executed with skillful enthusiasm, as usual. The dance numbers are fun, as they’re supposed to be. But first-time director Scott Speer, perhaps accustomed to his background as a maker of music videos, keeps cutting away and switching angles, denying us an unobstructed view of the talented hoofers doing their hoofing. The dancing is the one thing — and I mean the ONE THING — that the film has going for it, and it’s not showcased as well as it should be.
The saving grace might be the finale, which is so laugh-out-loud ludicrous it could turn this harmless bit of fluff into a cult classic. Without spoiling anything, let me just tell you that it involves staging a Mob event at the site of a ground-breaking ceremony specifically for the purpose of disrupting it and changing the hearts and minds of those in attendance. It is dance with a message. It’s like Occupy Wall Street, if OWS had choreography and showers and a less coherent viewpoint. The movie, written by previously uncredited Amanda Brody and blissfully unaware of its own cheesiness, is complete nonsense, but it’s inoffensive nonsense.
C (1 hr., 37 min.; )