Judge Patrick Bromley thinks this is a step down for Channing Tatum.
Our review of Step Up, published January 5th, 2007, is also available.
Two dancers. Two worlds. One dream.
2012 is going to go down as the year I came around on Channing Tatum. Where once I found him to be wooden, inarticulate and lacking in any charisma, his performances in a trio of movies this year—Haywire, 21 Jump Street and Magic Mike—have force me to rethink my opinion of him as an actor. He is capable of relaxed, seemingly effortless work, and has comic timing above and beyond what anyone could have predicted. I've become a genuine Channing Tatum fan. No one is more surprised than I am.
His breakthrough role, the 2006 dance romance Step Up, is exactly the movie that gave Tatum the reputation he held until this year. He's mostly just a mumbling, posing B-boy—a professional dancer given a chance to act—than he is a compelling male lead as Tyler Gage, foster kid and troublemaker, who trashes the auditorium of the Maryland School of the Arts one night as a prank. He's caught and forced to do community service at the school, which is one of the Fame schools in which everyone is a singer or dancer or DJ (yes, one of the kids is a DJ). One such student is Nora (Jenna Dewan, American Virgin), a ballerina working on her senior showcase. When her partner drops out due to injury, Nora is convinced her showcase has hit a dead end—until she finds out that Tyler is a gifted hip-hop dancer and the pair form an uneasy partnership. Will Nora learn to loosen up and come out of her shell? Will Tyler learn to commit to and care about something? Will they maybe even fall in love? Spoilers: the answer to all of these is YES.
Aside from some impressive dance sequences—not surprising since the movie was directed by choreographer Anne Fletcher (who also choreographed)—there is just nothing remarkable about Step Up. Everything about the movie is by the numbers, from the predictable characterization to the across-the-tracks romance to the last minute reconciliation that leads to the big number. Tatum demonstrates some of the naturalism at which he excels as an actor, but in the wrong way; it reads as inexperience. Even his chemistry with co-star Dewan, who he would eventually marry in real life, isn't all that palpable. The movie is little more than warmed-over Dirty Dancing for contemporary audiences, minus that movie's period setting, social commentary, charismatic performances…you get the picture (and I don't even like Dirty Dancing). If the idea of the film is to show off two actors who dance very well, I guess this one gets the job done. It's just a shame that it couldn't do so in the service of a better story.
Those who already own Step Up on DVD and are looking for a significantly different experience in HD are going to be disappointed by Touchstone's Blu-ray release of the movie, as all of the bonus content has just been brought over from the DVD and the A/V upgrade isn't quite strong enough to make the upgrade. The movie is presented in full 1080p HD and in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, and while it looks good it doesn't quite look great. There are more bouts of softness than there ought to be, and several instances of visible blocking. Colors remain natural and consistent throughout, though some of the darker scenes succumb to minor crush issues. Again, it's a strong transfer, but not one without some problems. The lossless DTS-HD audio track works better, if only because loud music and heavy beats drive do much of the soundtrack. Dialogue, while often mumbled, is clear and the dance sequences are lively.
Director/choreographer Anne Fletcher, Tatum, Dewan and Jamal Sims, who contributed additional hip-hop choreography, all sit down for a commentary track, which was recorded and released with the original DVD. They all speak from different locations but are recorded together (this isn't edited from multiple sessions), giving a decent idea of how sequences were staged and joking around in a way that isn't all that funny. Tatum, in particular, seems a lot more like his Step Up character than his more recent public persona would suggest, and whether that's a result of a Hollywood makeover or just a reflection of who he really was at that time I couldn't say. Also included are a few deleted scenes (with optional commentary from Fletcher), a less-than-amusing 90-second blooper reel, a featurette on the movie's choreography and four music videos from the likes of Ciara, Chris Brown, Samantha Jade and Sean Paul.
I get why Step Up struck a chord in some younger (mostly female?) moviegoers, and why it's spawned several sequels. The dancing is good. The music is what's on the radio. Mostly, though, it's Tatum that's to be credited for the movie's popularity: he's the bad boy with the sensitive heart. He's a good dancer. Most of all, though, he's cute. Careers have been built on less. Let's be thankful that it didn't take Tatum long to shed the baggage of Step Up and find himself as an actor.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
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