The Step Up Trilogy
Step Up (January 31/07)
Saddled with an extraordinarily familiar storyline and wholly uncharismatic performers, Step Up has virtually nothing to offer anyone outside its target demographic (ie bubble-headed teenaged girls). Channing Tatum stars as Tyler Gage, a street punk with a heart of gold who discovers his inner dancer after being sentenced to community service at a local arts school. Step Up's screenplay - written by Duane Adler and Melissa Rosenberg - possesses almost every single cliche one normally associates with a film of this sort, to the extent that even the most simple-minded viewer will have little difficulty figuring out exactly what's to occur during the movie's 103 minute running time (ie Tyler encounters the jealous boyfriend of a dance partner, Tyler's urban friends become upset over the time he's spending at the school, etc, etc). That the viewer has been asked to actually care about Tatum's Tyler - as unlikable a figure as one could possibly imagine - certainly doesn't help matters, nor does director Anne Fletcher's use of some seriously hackneyed devices (before Tyler is reluctantly chosen, the filmmaker offers up an eye-rollingly tedious montage of increasingly inept dancers). There's a high-energy dance sequence about midway through that's clearly the highlight of the film, but really, this is lowest-common-denominator stuff.
Step Up 2: The Streets
Though admittedly a minor improvement over its almost unwatchable predecessor, Step Up 2: The Streets' unapologetic (and downright desperate) attempts in appealing to a young demographic proves effective in systematically alienating those viewers over a certain age. It subsequently goes without saying that screenwriters Toni Ann Johnson and Karen Barna have infused the movie with a whole host of undeniably inept elements, including eye-rollingly predictable plot points, a uniformly unlikable selection of characters, and dialogue that's laughable in its efforts to be hip (ie "everyone's hatin' on you 'cause you're dope!") The storyline - which follows Andie (Briana Evigan) as she attempts to assemble (and train) a ragtag crew of hoofers for a vital underground competition - unfolds precisely as one might've surmised from the film's logline, with the proceedings punctuated by increasingly elaborate dance sequences that inevitably wear the viewer down (there are just so many of them). The performances are generally of the personable-yet-hopelessly-forgettable variety, as there's not a whole lot separating these impossibly attractive actors from the so-called thespians that generally populate nighttime soaps. And while it's hard not to get a kick out of the sequence that sees several characters kicking it old-school to Digital Underground's "The Humpty Dance," Step Up 2: The Streets is an otherwise egregiously innocuous effort that's ultimately not entirely able to justify its existence.
Step Up 3
The latest entry in a consistently underwhelming series, Step Up 3 follows a crew of dancers as they attempt to save their house by participating in a pivotal (and financially-lucrative) tournament. As inevitably becomes clear, Step Up 3 has been infused with a palpable sense of earnestness that prevents one from entirely dismissing it - with the film's high energy, thoroughly captivating dance sequences initially compensating for its lack of story and wholeheartedly developed characters. (It's also worth noting that the movie benefits substantially from the inclusion of two genuinely sweet romantic subplots, although the fake break-ups that predictably ensue prove effective at dampening their overall impact.) The affable yet far-from-enthralling atmosphere persists right up until about the one-hour mark, as scripters Amy Andelson and Emily Meyer subsequently emphasize the crew's exploits after they're forced to (temporarily) go their separate ways. It's an almost aggressively needless stretch that serves only to pad out the already overlong running time - the film has no business running even a minute over 80 minutes - and there's little doubt that the final battle isn't, as a result, as stirring as one imagines it's supposed to be. The final result is a mildly passable effort that admittedly does boast a handful of stand-out sequences - ie two characters jauntily dance on a New York City street in a shot that unfolds in a single take - yet it's impossible to envision the movie holding much appeal for newcomers to the increasingly irrelevant franchise.