I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original Step Up. It had some decent dance sequences, but everything else was kind of hokey and predictable. Truth be told, I expected nothing more (and, more likely, a whole lot less) from the sequel, Step Up 2 the Streets. But, almost inexplicably, I liked this film more than its predecessor. Wait – let me type that again, just to let the reality sink into my own mind: I actually liked Step Up 2. Hard to believe, perhaps, but true.
What’s weird is that, story-wise, there is nothing here that’s any better than the first Step Up. Both films have as their protagonist a troubled teen with a talent for hip-hop dance. This time, it’s Andie (Briana Evigan, daughter of “BJ and the Bear” and “My Two Dads” star Greg Evigan). Andie’s mother has passed away, and now she lives with a family friend who has grown tired of her involvement with a dance crew that stages spontaneous (and illegal) performances in public. If Andie can’t get her act together, she’s going to be kicked out.
Like the original’s central character, she gets a chance to put her life in order by attending the Maryland School for the Arts, an elite academy. There she meets a more classically trained dancer, Chase Collins (Robert Hoffman). Together, they form their own crew consisting of MSA misfits. The goal is to perform in a hip-hop street competition and to beat Andie’s former crew, the members of which have shunned her since she began attending the school.
But who am I kidding? Does story and plot even matter in a film like this? I mean, you have to have something there to fill in between the dance sequences; still, I don’t think anyone goes into Step Up 2 the Streets expecting There Will Be Blood-level storytelling. If you do, you’re popping and locking up the wrong tree. For however much or little it’s worth, Briana Evigan proves to be a reasonably engaging lead, and the supporting actors are bland but pleasant. The plot gives us a generic villain, but also some clever ways for our heroine and her pals to outsmart him.
Let’s jump to the important stuff: the dancing. Debut director Jon Chu makes a very key decision in his approach to the film: he trusts the dancing to be interesting on its own, without needing a lot of camera/editing tricks to gussy it up. Other recent hip-hop dance pictures like the horrid You Got Served and the atrocious Stomp the Yard have tried to over-stylize an already stylish type of dance, creating an OD of “flava” in the process. Chu, on the other hand, cuts only when necessary and holds longer shots that allow you to watch the dancers doing their thing unencumbered by show-offiness. This makes the dance numbers fun; we can admire the footwork on our own terms.
And man, are the dance scenes cool. The first one takes place in a subway car. One guy does this move that’s incredible. He lies down on the floor and vibrates himself under the seats while in a prone position, then vibrates himself back out. Later, Step Up star Channing Tatum appears for a cameo in which he dances on a floor with mini-trampolines built in. The grand finale is set on a rain-drenched street, with the dancers flicking up splashes of water with each movement. The actual story might be kind of routine, but the choreography combined with the enthusiasm of the cast keeps you watching.
What bothers me most about Step Up 2 the Streets is exactly the thing I liked most about it: this is a movie made specifically for iPod-listening, T-Mobile-carrying, curfew-hating 14 year-olds who show up to watch the movie en masse as part of some pre-teen dating ritual. It is distinctly not meant for married, thirty-something film critics, or any adult for that matter. And yet, the film is not exclusive enough to leave other potential viewers out. Step Up 2 is one of those pictures that does what it does with enough skill and energy that it can partially transcend demographics.
This, of course, is all a fancy-shmancy way of saying that it’s the guiltiest of guilty pleasures.
( out of four)
Step Up 2 the Streets is rated PG-13 for language, some suggestive material, and brief violence. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.
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