Step Up Revolution
Directed by Scott Speer
Written by Amanda Brody, Based on Characters by Duane Adler
Starring Kathryn McCormack, Ryan Guzman, Stephen “tWitch” Boss, Misha Hamilton, and Peter Gallagher
Rated PG-13 for some suggestive dancing and language
Running Time of 99 Minutes
I have always found dance to be one of the most powerful forms of human expression, and for the past 6 years the Step Up franchise has exemplified that in cinema. I have always enjoyed these movies perhaps more than my critical eye should, but if we use the metaphor of the action film in which the dance scenes in the Step Ups are action, nothing else in recent times even begins to compare to Step Up. The films barely even connect to each other in a narrative sense, although each film has at least one character from the previous one. While not as fresh or joyful as Step Up 3D (my favorite in the series), Step Up Revolution takes the series’ theme of dance as human expression to its apex with a strong social and political message. We can use dance as a means of making a great point and stand, as opposed to apathy or worse, violence.
The dots that connect the dance scenes in Step Up Revolution are a bit problematic. Kathryn McCormick placed 3rd in season 6 of So You Think You Can Dance, and when she moves and dances she lights up the screen. Her radiant smile and adorable chin dimple match her fantastic control and emotion she is able to put in her dance. When she is forced to act, however, things go less well. Her non-dance screen persona is a bit thin, and it’s sometimes hard to buy what she is trying to sell. If she was able to match the passion of her dance with her acting, she could be a real star. As her counterpart, newcomer Ryan Guzman fares a bit better. He’s a terrific dancer, naturally, but despite his complete lack of previous film experience he has a wealth of charisma to go around. Nobody else in the film is given the opportunity to act, save for Peter Gallagher who is the king of eyebrow acting, and the young cast of physically fit and attractive dancers surely know how to move their bodies.
The plot, as it were, is very been-there-done-that. While Step Up 3D’s battle motif felt fresh, anchored by the terrific Adam Sevani as Moose (who sadly only has a cameo here), Revolution is playing in familiar we’re going to tear down your small town for a big development territory. No matter. Step Up Revolution works despite that. The flavor and soul of Miami is captured on screen complete with Salsa and Spanish and the gorgeous beaches and waters, and it makes for the perfect setting for a frothy summer confection. As I’ve alluded to many times previous, though, where this movie sings is in the dance scenes. Whereas Step Up 3D focused on dance battles, Revolution focuses on flash mobs and even more interestingly, protest dance. Certain scenes in the film play out like heists, complete with planning and execution, and it’s fun to see how it all comes together.
Director Scott Speer, along with his DP Karsten Gopinath and choreographers Chuck Maldonado, Christopher Scott, Travis Wall, and Jamal Sims simply do terrific work in the dance scenes. They are as fluid and clean as the best music videos, and Speer uses the camera to float throughout the many moving bodies, establishing perspective and movement. The choreography allows for some stunning and elaborate dance set pieces that simply took my breath away. If dance is expression, then this film is filled to the brim with it. What’s particularly clever, though, is that despite the thin narrative and characters, the dance sequences serve to fill in the thematic and emotional gaps of the film. This is a story told through dance, and the entire arc of the film is charted throughout the romantic and sexy duo numbers between McCormack and Guzman, and the hugely elaborate set pieces, such as the finale which has many moving parts and is simply explosive.
It’s easy to see why this (and the other) Step Up movies would be so easily dismissed. On an objective level, they don’t often accomplish what one would expect from a quality film. Yet Step Up Revolution defies convention, because although it is likely the worst (or 2nd worst) movie of the Step Up franchise, it also has some of the most energetic and, frankly, beautiful dance scenes put to film since the heyday of the musicals in the 1940s and 1950s. Singin’ in the Rain this certainly is not, but for our politically and socially charged generation, this will do just fine.