Step Up
‘Cause this is Thriller! Thriller night!

Theatrical Release Date: 08/11/2006
Director: Anne Fletcher
Cast: Channing Tatum, Jenna Dewan

So, I’m at the movie theater, and I’m a little parched, so I hit up the concession stand and order a blue raspberry Icee. The concessionaire hands it over to me and says I better start drinking it now because it’s going to keep expanding. Sure enough, I see the sugary, blue liquid begin to expand and threaten to spill out over the lid. I take a big sip and check the levels. Here it comes again. Another big sip. Oh God, it’s still going. Another sip.

Ow. Here’s the brain freeze. And there’s still more Icee rushing towards the lip of the cup and so another sip. This continues as I walk to the theater and only after sitting down and stomping my foot down in brain freeze agony once I’ve reached my seat does the foamy, blue goodness decide to stop screwing with me.

Why did I spend so long explaining a potentially messy situation? Probably to distract both you and my freeze-addled brain from writing that I actually liked “Step Up”. I’ll pause while my street cred goes down another notch. Let’s see … carry the one … that puts my score at negative 42. I’ll never be as cool as those kids in the Hot Topic store. Darn it all to heck!

Anywho, I’m sure if you’ve already been mocking me for just seeing this film in the first place, you’re wondering how in the hell I, of all people, can come to the defense of what seems to be such an obvious clunker. Well, it helps that “Step Up” makes no pretense at being anything other than a hip hop dance movie about a seemingly perfect girl who falls for a guy from the wrong side of the tracks and together they conquer all their problems. This formula has been done before and it will be done again. The trick is doing it with enough conviction and honesty to make it look real.

You see, where some films fail is setting up a premise but bringing in the wrong elements. “Step Up” is not the kind of film where you cast b-list actors who danced once in high school. You cast dancers who happen to want to act. You cast musicians who act on the side, rather than actors who just decided to drop an album on their fans.

To that end, enter Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan. Tatum got his big break on the Ricky Martin video, “She Bangs” and Dewan was a dancer for the likes of P. Diddy and Janet Jackson. Their performances in scenes not dominated by a music beat are fine but they really “pop” on screen once the music is cued. It’s more important that they dance well, which is key since the film is about people dancing.

To round out their worlds, there are a number of supporting characters, all who fall into the same category of “professional” turned actor. Damaine Radcliff plays the basketball savvy best friend of Tatum and his previous credit is as a basketball player in this year’s “Glory Road”. Mario and Josh Henderson play musically inclined students at the school and in real life are musicians first, actors second. Alyson Stoner plays the foster sister of Tatum and her most meaty scene involves her dancing with her big brother. Good thing she’s the little girl who broke out in Missy Elliot’s “Work It” music video.

Rachel Griffiths, of “Six Feet Under” fame, plays the director of the school and is perhaps the only person in the film that’s an actor first … I didn’t go deep into her bio to see if she once was the principle at an arts academy though.

Then there’s Heavy D. Yes, Heavy D. You thought he was dead, didn’t you? No? Well, I did. And apparently he’s not! The saddest thing about casting Heavy D is that he doesn’t rap once! For shame, “Step Up” … for shame! And the predilection for casting job-related professionals for film productions doesn’t stop at the cast. Director Anne Fletcher is also the choreographer, and although all of her previous film credits are for choreography, I give her credit for turning out a fairly complete story.

Now, my favorite example of sticking to what you know is the screenwriter, Duane Adler. Shortly after exiting the theater, I mentioned to my friend that this was basically “Save the Last Dance” updated just a little bit. Sometimes, I just scare myself. When looking at Adler’s past work, he is the screenwriter for … “Save the Last Dance”! Hell, the only other thing he wrote besides these two projects involves salsa dancing. Talk about riding a genre. Man, I am befuddled thinking about this guy sitting in front of a computer screen wondering, “What should I write about?” While I applaud him for somehow making a living writing films (I guess) … maybe he should take a shot and write a film about a FBI witness that a criminal tries to kill by placing venomous snakes on his plane.

Oh wait. Never mind.

You know what I mean.

Getting back to “Step Up”, the film is as formulaic as it is cheesy. If you saw the preview, you know what it’s about and if you’ve seen “Save the Last Dance” you can rest assured you’ve seen 92% of this film. It’s a little disappointing that considering the film is about a classically trained dancer incorporating hip hop sensibility, the end dance sequence loses almost everything but the hip hop. I’m a bit surprised at that, though since I am anything but classically trained, I’ll let that one slide.

Also, the film would have benefited from a little more script revision. In the typical fashion of a character rising up, having a setback, and then making amends, “Step Up” not only doesn’t miss a beat, it adds one of its own. After Tatum’s character begins to get into the groove of things, he quits because he gets jealous. Then later, after redeeming himself, he quits because he feels unappreciated. I would have appreciated cutting about ten minutes of the runtime by not watching Tatum make the same mistake twice. C’est la vie.

Still, I liked “Step Up”. It had a positive message and the actors didn’t have to pretend to dance and sing. That’s their forte and the script didn’t really require that they actually act all that much. The music is good, as it should be for a film so musically dependant, and for a film by a first time director, there were a few scenes shot with a wiser eye than most first timers seem to have.

I’m giving “Step Up” a 3 out of 5. If you liked “Save the Last Dance”, you’ll like this film. The dancing is better, since Julia Stiles is a much better actress than dancer, and it’s got Heavy D! Who could ask for anything more? (And yes, I realize by writing that sentence, I may read a few interesting posts soon.)