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Movie Review: Step Up 3D aka “Soundtrack: The Motion Picture!”

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Some movies have the uncanny ability to overcome their dopey screenplays by either having actors more capable than the writing or a director who knows what he’s doing. Strangely, Step Up 3D has a little of both going for it; unfortunately, it’s only for one take. While the film as a whole is pretty much a solid case of “you get what you pay for,” this one scene makes you long for an entirely different film but I will get into that later.

Director Jon Chu could very well find a name for himself as a great musical director. If he could find a script better suited for the style that pops up towards the end of this effort, he could definitely pull the next great Hollywood musical right out of his ass. Alas, for now, he’s working with a script so inept and clichéd that it veers toward parody if the film weren’t taking itself so gosh darn seriously.

What first time screenwriters Amy Andelson and Emily Meyer have cobbled together is laugh-out-loud hilarious but not because it’s supposed to be. This is a script that thinks it’s a clever endeavor needing to save the warehouse from being sold because it’s the only place these kids feel they can call home. It weirdly calls to mind another unintentionally funny film, August Rush, which itself wasn’t too shabby when it was focusing on the music and not the crazy antics of Robin Williams.

In Step Up 3D, you’re never sure who the real main characters are but this surely is no ensemble piece. I suppose it comes down to the two couples. First you’ve got best friends Moose (Adam G. Sevani returning from numero dos) and Camille (Alyson Stoner from the original) starting their freshman year at New York University. (It’s never explained why these long-time best friends haven’t appeared in the same movie until now.) After bidding his parental units adieu, Moose notices someone wearing some limited edition Nikes and follows this stranger into the middle of a step-off where Moose accidentally gets chided into participating. Meanwhile he not only puts the beat down on Julien (Joe Slaughter) but causes such a ruckus the police get involved and Moose takes off with Luke (Rick Malambri).

After meeting Luke, who takes Moose to his warehouse where dancers can be dancers and there’s a “vault” upstairs where there seems to be a 24/7 rave happening, we get confused as to whether maybe Luke and the girl he’s stalking with his camera for his dance documentary are the main characters. We learn this girl is Natalie (Sharni Vinson) and she seems to be a classically trained dancer who just wants to get her groove on. Luke’s documentary is about dancers and is called “Born From a Boombox.” This also leads Luke to hilariously start calling people BFAB. If you don’t find this amusing then the joke’s on you and Disney will continue to keep raping your wallet.

We also learn some random plot elements such as Julien used to be part of Luke’s group called “The Pirates” but has gone on to form his own dance group called “The Samurai.” There’s also a random expositional Pirate character who has conversations with Luke only to further things along but to make sure we know that the bank wants to seize Luke’s warehouse as he’s almost six months behind on his payments because the warehouse used to belong to his parents.

But wait, there’s a World Jam coming up and wouldn’t you just know it, the grand prize is $100,000. But someone isn’t who we think she is and may be there under false pretenses and this same someone just may be the brother of someone who happens to have thrown a match to win some money. At one match there’s even some random Rambo homage complete with aging Asian wagers.

In the meantime, Luke falls for Natalie and they make out atop what appears to be a crematorium while later the truths are revealed at her big birthday party and Moose has to decide between dancing with his fellow Pirates and taking his 8 pm math exam and learns the hardships of standing up your best friend as the other half to their Mary Kate and Ashley Halloween costume.

If Natalie were really falling for Luke and wants to crush her brother, wouldn’t she step up and join them at the World Jam to kick Julien’s ass? Nope, not here. Instead she packs up and buys a ticket to California where she just wants Luke to run away with her so she can get away from it all and he can finish his documentary and go to film school. Meanwhile, Moose has gathered up his crew from the last Step Up including Kido (Mari Koda) and Cable, better known as Glee’s own “Other Asian” (Harry Shum Jr.).

I have not seen either of the first two Step Up films and readily admit they are not what I am clamoring to sit through. I have read good things about Chu’s short film “When the Kids Are Away” and after having watched the trailer for this short film fully understand why Chu was picked to direct the two most recent Step Ups.

Toward the end of Step Up 3D there’s a scene where Moose is apologizing to Camille for his behavior. What results is a standout, jaw-dropping musical number that’s way too short for our own good. Here the characters suddenly have chemistry and look like they’re actually having fun. Chu shows that he can not only beautifully film a scene but choreograph one too, let alone that everything is done in one take which means his editor had to thankfully keep his hands off this scene. The one thing I really want to know is, where’s the rest of this movie?! I suspect that producer Adam Shankman (director of Hairspray) had something to do with this sequence.

It looks like had Chu had been allowed to make an actual musical, he really could’ve been on to something here. But alas, everyone must wallow in the clichés and our ear drums must be pulverized by the blaring soundtrack and we must avert our eyes from literal “in your face” dance moves that are sloppily edited together and filmed as if Chu is cookie cutter MTV fodder.

Note to Chu: you have a niche, it’s just a shame you have to pay your dues. It’s already strange enough that this is Disney’s first venture into 3D filming and makes no sense, but hopefully now that Chu has cut his teeth next time we will get to see something that can really wow us and without the gimmicks involved.

Photo courtesy Touchstone Pictures

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About Cinenerd

A Utah based writer, born and raised in Salt Lake City, UT for better and worse. Cinenerd has had an obsession with film his entire life, finally able to write about them since 2009, and the only thing he loves more are his wife and their two wiener dogs (Beatrix Kiddo and Pixar Animation). He is accredited with the Sundance Film Festival.