© 2006 Ray Wong
The last dance movie I saw was probably Save the Last Dance with Julia Stiles. So, I know I'm biased going into Step Up, another romance/coming-of-age story about dancers. The sad thing is, it meets my expectations.
Tyler (Tatum) grows up on the wrong side of the tracks in Baltimore and feels that he has nothing, and he needs to find his way out of his misery. While horsing around with his best friend Mac (Radcliff) and Mac's little brother Skinny (Washington), they break into the elite Maryland School of the Arts. Tyler is charged with vandalism and sentenced to 200 hours of community service at the school. There, he feels out of place with the privileged students, though he has his eyes on Nora (Dewan), a senior dance student who dreams of joining a ballet company.
Nora's whole dream depends on finding the perfect partner for her senior showcase. Tyler, being a gifted street dancer, volunteers to help. Their different backgrounds and world views clash immediately. Nora takes her craft very seriously, while Tyler thinks everything is a joke. They fall for each other anyway. Eventually, Tyler realizes that there is more to life than he ever imagined, and he has only one chance to prove that he can step up and take it.
Tatum (She's the Man) has the required good looks and physical agility to pull it off as Tyler. Dewan (Take the Lead) is sweet and cute, but she lacks a genuine emotional core to make us really care about Nora. Radcliff (Glory Road) is mostly wasted in a minor role, and newcomer Washington has the unthankful job of playing an irritating character whose fate is sealed from the very first scene. Sidora (White Chicks) doesn't have much to do except playing cute. Musician Mario (Destination Fame) is a standout. He brings a genuine quality to his basic role and makes us care about his character. The only name in the cast is Griffiths (Six Feet Under), who somehow turns a cookie-cutter role of the school's director into something realistic.
If the story, written by Adler (Save the Last Dance) and Rosenberg (Birds of Prey), seems contrived and trite, it is. There is nothing original about the story, from the "poor boy meets rich girl" plot to the rousing finale. The writing hits all the marks of a by-the-book feel-good movie, making it as sweet and artificial as sugar substitutes. Even the conflicts feel manufactured and artificial. Every turn of the plot is predictable, and I mean everything. There is no surprise at all. We know, for example, from the first scene, what will happen exactly to Tyler, Mac, and Skinny.
The dialogue is cheesy, and there are scenes that evoke groans and unintentional laughter from the audience. The characters are cut-outs and they lack genuine emotions or motives. Even their names -- Tyler, Nora, Miles, Lucy, etc. -- are generic. It's not to say they're unlikable; most of the time, they're just puppets instead of real people.
First-time director Fletcher, who choreographed for films such as The 40-Year-Old Virgin and The Longest Yard, clearly can't rise above the material. The film has an After-School Special feel to it. There's nothing remarkable about the production. All the main actors are attractive and talented. This is pure Hollywood. I keep wondering, is there a reason why they make this movie other than to give starving filmmakers jobs?
Even though this movie is totally unnecessary, it is not a complete disaster. What saves the film is its energy. While the actors and their characters are mostly clones, they do give off excellent vibes and jell very well with each other. Fletcher and her cast show real talent in the musical and dance sequences -- there are energy and joy, and they liven up the screen. For its target audience (mostly teens and young adults), its simple, artificial plot and likable clones of characters might just be enough to entertain and inspire. Still, if the filmmakers had devoted more time and effort in creating real characters and real situations and a real story, it could have been a step up from this Hollywood rehash.
Stars: Channing Tatum, Jenna Dewan, Damaine Radcliff, De'Shawn Washington, Mario, Drew Sidora, Rachel Griffiths, Josh Handerson
Director: Anne Fletcher
Writers: Duane Adler, Melissa Rosenberg
Distributor: Buena Vista
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, brief violence and innuendo
Running Time: 98 minutes
Script – 3
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 6
Editing – 6
Production – 6
Total – 5.3 out of 10