While it might not necessarily be revolutionary in the way that the title says it is, if there was a checklist of everything a dance film had to do to be successful, the fourth entry in the Step Up franchise manages to tick them all off with entertaining efficiency. It’s high energy, fast moving, extremely well shot, expertly danced and choreographed, it doesn’t attempt to take on more plot than it can handle, and it quite nobly goes back to the heyday of 80s dance movies by making the dancing actually stand for something in a greater social context. What I’m saying in a long winded fashion is that Step Up Revolution is one of the most pleasant surprises of the summer.
Underemployed waiter and expert dancer Sean (Ryan Guzman) lives with his sister and his nephew along a broken down and little loved multicultural section of Miami’s waterfront, leading him to team with a like minded group of dancers and creative types from different styles and backgrounds to form The Mob. The purpose of their crew at first hinges on setting up filmed flash mobs in public places such as gridlocked streets and restaurants with hopes of hosting a YouTube channel that can get to ten million hits the fastest to net them a huge cash prize. Eventually, the group’s cause becomes nobler when the real estate mogul father (Peter Gallagher) of Sean’s love interest (Kathryn McCormick) begins to force everyone out of the old neighbourhood to put in a new development, then the real revolution begins.
If the last part of the previous sentence sounds extremely cheeseball, that’s because it’s wholly evocative of the spirit of the film. This isn’t a world where plot of characterization ever needs to tread. Even streetdancing classics of the 1980s like Beat Street and Breakin’ were almost devoid of such things as plot or character arcs. These are films that were designed for a specific audience that simply wants to see a show and have a good time. They are the throwbacks to your grandparents and (in some cases) great-grandparents Busby Berkley musicals of the 20s and 30s. They were basic stories filled with slightly risqué humour and a genuine message of community among the disadvantaged. The dance films that have endured over time – from the Astaire and Rogers films to Fame to Dirty Dancing to Save the Last Dance – have all been extremely simple narratives that are basic morality tales about overcoming hardship, disappointment, and setback. They were positively inspirational for audiences at the time, and the Step Up films have become their modern day equivalent.
The acting doesn’t add much, but the leads have charisma and oodles of talent in the aspects of the movie that actually matter. The dance numbers here are some of the best in the franchise, especially an implausible, but eye-popping melding of pop-art and dance inside an all too square and serious art gallery that emphatically positions what the dancers are doing as being the art it should be rightfully referred to as.
Yes, yes, the dialogue is purposefully hammy and everything is way over the top, but the film dares to go big with its vision before briefly misstepping right at the very end. Everyone seems to be having a great time – especially Gallagher, who looks like he’s revelling the chance to play and oily, cheesy villain – and the film is designed for audiences looking to go along for the ride. It’s all very basic stuff, but in recent years the formula hasn’t been done this well outside of the franchise, and if the predecessors to the Step Up series can be hailed as classic of their genre, then it’s definitely time that this franchise be spoken of in the same vein. Is it one of the best movies of the year? No. Does it necessarily need to be? No. Does it accomplish what it sets out to do perfectly? Almost. Is it more fun than it has any right to be? Absolutely.
Cast: Cleopatra Coleman, Ryan Guzman, Misha Gabriel Hamilton
Directed by: Scott Speer
Top image: A scene from Step Up Revolution. Courtesy eOne Films.