Touchstone Pictures // 2010 // 107 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // December 21st, 2010
Two worlds. One dream.
"Some people learn to dance. Others are born to."
Moose (Adam G. Sevani, Step Up 2: The Streets) had fun dancing during his high school days, but now it's time to set all of that aside and focus on his freshman year at New York University. That was the plan, anyway. On the first day of school, Moose joins an impromptu dance competition on-campus and is noticed by a local dancer named Luke (Rick Malambri, Surrogates). Luke invites Moose back to his home; a massive loft which has been transformed into a dance club. Luke serves as the leader of a dance crew known as the House of Pirates and invites Moose to join the group. Moose agrees to dance with the crew, but worries about alienating his parents and his friend Camille (Alyson Stoner, Cheaper by the Dozen) in the process.
After convincing Moose to join the team, Luke sets his sights on another dancer -- the talented and lovely Natalie (Sharni Vinson, CSI: NY). Sure, she's got plenty of skills and would make a fine addition to the team, but the truth of the matter is that Luke is head over heels in love with her. After Natalie joins the crew, she and Luke work together to take their dancing and their relationship to new levels.
Together, the House of Pirates work their way through a series of competitions in the hopes of making it to a tournament championship. However, there's more than just team pride at stake -- if the team doesn't win the considerable cash prize, Luke's going to be kicked out of his loft (he hasn't been able to pay the rent for the past six months). Can Luke, Moose, Natalie and the rest of the team go all the way?
In the interest of full disclosure, I should inform you that I haven't seen Step Up or Step Up 2: The Streets (though I still have a tiny grudge against the first film for launching the charisma-free Channing Tatum to stardom). Despite some narrative ties to the previous films, Step Up 3 is more or less designed as a standalone tale; tossing a new central character and some new dance moves into a tiresomely formulaic story.
If you're going to get any enjoyment at all out of Step Up 3, you're simply going to have to accept that the film's plot is a flimsy excuse to tie together a series of elaborate dance scenes. There's no question that the lavishly choreographed dance battles are the star of the show and the primary draw for most viewers. Fortunately, the film doesn't disappoint in this department, as director Jon Chu and choreographer Dave Scott ensure that the dance scenes sizzle with energy and creativity. Watching these enormously gifted kids offer their best moves is admittedly fascinating; a refreshingly organic sort of cinematic thrill that requires no computer-generated special effects or tricky wire work.
If only the screenplay by Amy Andelson & Emily Meyer (both making their screenwriting debut) were as splendid, we might have something worth remembering. Unfortunately, the film embraces just about every sort of inspirational teen movie/dance movie/"Let's put on a show" movie cliché imaginable, creating a film which offers one eyeroll-inducing scene after another. You've got the kid whose parents disapprove of his dancing, the deadline to raise money before the Evil Bankers foreclose on the loft, the "look how much we're improving!" montages, the increasingly high-stake competitions, the second-act break-ups followed by third-act reconciliations...the list goes on and on. Incapable of offering a single original idea of its own, Step Up 3 is content to lazily recycle moments from other less-than-remarkable films of this type.
The acting is similarly lackluster, as dramatic abilities take second priority to dancing abilities in a flick like this. Almost everyone comes across as stilted and amateurish; generally performing their dialogue with mush-mouthed incomprehensibility or overstated awkwardness. Malambri (filling Step Up 3's Channing Tatum role) is particularly dull as Luke, never managing to sell any of his big dramatic moments. The filmmakers attempt to compensate for this by having Malambri take his shirt off as frequently as possible. This tactic will work better for some than others.
Note: Step Up 3 was presented in theatres as Step Up 3-D, and there are moments when this causes the 2-D presentation to feel a bit peculiar. There are numerous moments of 3-D gimmickry present (for instance, a bubble floats towards the camera before being popped by one of the cast members) that look rather goofy in 2-D.
Without question, the film looks sharp in hi-def, benefiting from an eye-popping 1080p/1.78:1 transfer. The digital cinematography offers breathtaking detail and dazzling color for most of the film, with the dance sequences standing out in particular as visual gems. Black crush is a minor issue at times and facial detail seems smeared in a few scenes, but otherwise I have no real complaints. The audio is strong, with the dance scenes predictably standing out once again. The throbbing bass and busy sound design really provides an immersive experience during these moments. The only problem? The dance scenes are so loud that you'll probably need to adjust the volume when the quiet dialogue scenes are being presented. Bonus features are a little then: the complete fake short film "Born from a Boombox" that's presented in snippets throughout the film, some deleted scenes, some music videos, a brief featurette on the music videos, some alternate dance sequences and a trailer. You also get a DVD copy of the film.
The utterly inept storytelling in Step Up 3 presents the dazzling dance sequences from packing even the slightest dramatic punch. Boo.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Alternate Takes
* Deleted Scenes
* Music Videos
* Short Film
* DVD Copy