Step Up Review
By Shawn McKenzie 08/14/2006
Tyler Gage (Channing Tatum) is a white kid from Baltimore who lives in a foster home with Lena and Bill Freeman (Jane Beard and Richard Pelzman), along with his foster sister Camille (Alyson Stoner) and foster brother Malcolm (Isaiah Washington.) He hangs out with his best friend Mac Carter (Damaine Radcliff) and Mac’s younger brother Marcus, a.k.a. Skinny (De’Shawn Washington.) When they aren’t playing basketball on the playground or dancing freestyle hip-hop, they are boosting cars for a chop-shop owner named Omar (Heavy D.) One night, they go to a party, where they get into a confrontation with a local thug named PJ (DeLon Howell.) Wanting to vent some frustration, they break into the basement of the Maryland School of Arts. They think that the school is only for rich kids, and for some reason, they decide to vandalize the auditorium. Security quickly arrives, but only Tyler is caught. Rather than go to juvenile hall, he is sentenced to 200 hours of community service at the very school he destroyed. Director Gordon (Rachel Griffiths) is in charge of the school, and she assigns him to work for Mr. McCaffery (Michael Seresin), the school’s custodian (who we never see again after he is introduced.) Meanwhile, Nora Clark (Jenna Dewan) is a dance student at the school who is having some different problems. She is preparing for the Senior Showcase, and her dance partner, Andrew (Tim Lacatena), has sprained his ankle. She tries to ask her singing boyfriend Brett Dolan (Josh Henderson) to fill in for Andrew, but he is too busy working on his new album with producer/composer Miles Darby (R&B star Mario.) She is afraid that she will fail the performance, which would make her mother Katherine (Deirdre Lovejoy) happy, since she wants Nora to give up this pipe dream of dancing and go to Cornell University (to do what, I’m not sure.) With time running out, Nora tries holding auditions for replacements, but swallows her pride and eventually asks Tyler…whom she earlier saw dancing in the parking lot…to be her dance partner. Her best friend, singer Lucy Avila (Drew Sidora), thinks that Tyler is cute, but she has an older boyfriend herself (there is a subplot with Miles being attracted to Lucy.) Nora tells Tyler to bring his tights, but all he has to wear apparently is baggy jeans (couldn’t he afford to buy sweatpants at least?) They come from two different types of dancing backgrounds (hers is ballet; his is hip-hop), but after a gawky start, they manage to mesh the styles together into something unique. Of course, they start to fall in love, even though she has a boyfriend. Tyler also has other pressures from his friends…or specifically Mac, who thinks that Tyler is spending too much time at school and not enough time hanging out. The longer Tyler spends at the school, the more he realizes that he might have a future there as a dancer…if life circumstances don’t get in the way first.
I knew going into the screening of Step Up that I wasn’t going to see anything original…but after a little bit of research, I found out just how unoriginal it was.
Let’s forget for now the fact that we’ve seen this plotline about a million times (boy from the wrong side of the tracks falls in love with privileged girl when they are coincidentally paired up with one another for one reason or another.) The writer, the lead actress, and the studio all have similar ties to this movie. It was co-written by Duane Adler (with Melissa Rosenberg.) Adler had previously co-written the screenplay for the 2001 movie Save the Last Dance, where a teen boy with a criminal past dances with and falls in love with a nice Midwestern girl. The lead actress, Dewan, was a member of the ensemble cast of this year’s Take the Lead, which was The Blackboard Jungle of dance. Finally, Disney (or more specifically Buena Vista/Touchstone) produced and distributed the movie. Earlier this year, Disney produced the hit TV movie “High School Musical” for the Disney Channel, in which the captain of the basketball team and president of the science club fall in love while dancing and singing in the high school musical.
Should I penalize the movie for having one too many coincidences? I would not normally…if the new project could show me something fresh. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do that. The writing is the worst thing. Too many things were a little too goofy or didn’t make any sense. Why would you trash an upper-crust school auditorium when you know that its security was going to pounce on you right away? Didn’t Tyler have his own school to go to? Is there a reason that they made Skinny so clueless? Why was Mac ticked off at Tyler for spending so much time dancing with Nora instead of hanging out with his boys when it was he himself that said that Tyler never followed through on anything in his life? There were other things that I found odd about the writing that I would get into, but I don’t want to spoil the movie for you…but if you see it, I think you will know what I’m talking about.
There were a couple of saving graces about the movie. The dancing and music were good. Sidora does her own singing in the movie, and two of her songs are on the soundtrack. Mario, appearing in his first wide release acting role, does a good job…proving that rappers and R&B singers are some of the better musicians-turned-actors around (ironically, as the lone real full-time musician in the cast, he only appears as backup for Sidora on one of the songs she performs.) Anne Fletcher, who made her directorial debut with this movie, was also the lead choreographer. She is a veteran at choreography, starting with 2000’s Bring It On and choreographing many movies in between…so it’s no shock that the dancing would be very good.
I’ve already mentioned the performances of Mario and Sidora, who have chemistry in their brief scenes together, but I also want to mention the chemistry between Tatum and Dewan. I could believe their roles, though Tatum struck me as a Kevin Federline-wannabe (at least he didn’t try to do his version of K-Fed’s “PopoZão.”)
As for the rest of the cast…the adults were criminally underwritten. The Oscar and Emmy nominated Griffiths barely appeared in the movie (I can never understand why high profile actors take such small roles in wide release movies. Do they really need the paycheck that bad?) I guess that it has been so long for the fourth season of HBO’s “The Wire” to arrive that Lovejoy had to take this role as the mom who thinks that dance is a waste of time (despite stating in the movie that Nora had loved dancing since she was nine years old.)
Step Up will attract the same audiences that watched the examples above…pre-teen girls. Otherwise, I can’t see too many boyfriends dancing along their girlfriends to see it (it would mostly be a dragging situation.)
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