Once upon a time, dance crews battled each other for street supremacy. B-boys and b-girls went to war armed with pops and locks, with only that dimpled guy from Saved by the Bell to break up the, uh, breakdancing.
But this is 2012. And in 2012, dance crews fight the system. Step Up Revolution, a dance film for the 99%, is the fourth instalment in the film franchise that keeps alumni from television show So You Think You Can Dance gainfully employed. The film centres around a dance crew that stages elaborate flash mobs first to win a YouTube contest, then to stop a development corporation from destroying their community. It doesn’t get more 2012 than that.
Kathryn McCormick is not your average dancer, though. She is a finalist from the sixth season of So You Think You Can Dance and in Revolution she plays Emily, a contemporary dancer who has moved to sunny Miami with aspirations of joining an illustrious troupe. Her real estate magnate father, Mr. Anderson (played by the film’s most “famous” cast member, Center Stage‘s Peter Gallagher), tells her: “Either you’re a professional dancer by the end of the summer or you come work with me.”
Cue tortured contemporary dance solo in a sunlit studio. Dialogue and believable plot: 0. Dancing: 1.
At a beach club in her father’s hotel, Emily meets Sean (model/MMA fighter Ryan Guzman), and shows him some moves that appear to have been inspired by another kind of club. For further details, see Magic Mike with Channing Tatum, who danced his way up from Step Up and out of his clothing for Steven Soderbergh.
Sean isn’t just a waiter at Mr. Anderson’s hotel, though. He’s also a purveyor of flash mobs (a flash mobster, a flasher of mobs?) and his crew’s amazing dance sequences on Ocean Drive, in an art gallery, a restaurant and an office building — all in 3D — are the best reason to check out the film. Helmed by music video director Scott Speer, the numbers make up at least half of the 96-minute film’s running time and are loaded with Cirque du Soleil-like stunts, bungee-assisted wall dancing and jumping stilts.
While McCormick and Guzman are sweet and generate believable chemistry, the real stars are the choreographers, including Travis Wall’s emotional contemporary routines (he’s another So You Think You Can Dance finalist) and Christopher Scott’s detailed sequence involving dozens of dancers in fedoras and black suits, moving in unison while the sky above rains dollar bills.
Where all of these dancers exactly come from is never explained. It’s a flash mob — it’s random, like this film’s plot points and conclusion. Sean’s crew, named “The Mob,” is only made up of about a dozen people — most are introduced in a voice over and an Ocean’s 11-type montage as they scribble on building plans and arrange an “inside man” in the art gallery, all set to The Heavy’s How You Like Me Now.
Emily eventually becomes the group’s newest member despite the grumblings of Sean’s best friend Eddy (Misha Gabriel). After romantic dances on the beach and midnight boat rides, Sean gives her the creative edge she needs for her audition into a more esteemed and legitimate dance company (an idea reminiscent of 2001’s Save the Last Dance).
The real conflict, though, arrives in the form of Mr. Anderson’s plan to build a shiny new development, leaving everyone in the area homeless and/or jobless. With little time (or leggings) to spare, Emily suggests they fight The Man — in this case, her dad — with performance art. To add to the contrived drama, no one but Sean and Emily knows that she’s an Anderson herself, making the pair’s romance a little like Romeo and Juliet, but with a lot more dancing. (Oh wait, that’s West Side Story.) Also be on the look-out for the “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” moment a la Dirty Dancing.
“It’s not OK to make art for fun anymore,” Emily tells the gang at one point. But it’s apparently still OK to make a dance movie for fun. Art:0 0. Fun: 1. If you’re all right with that score, join the mob.