REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER
For 21st Century Media
Just in case you’ve lost count, “Step Up: All In” represents the fifth installment in the dance-driven series.
The initial 2006 film, simply titled “Step Up,” actually contained a substantive story line to augment the terpsichorean routines. The low-budget film starred an up and coming Channing Tatum in the lead role. He portrayed Tyler Gage, a young juvenile delinquent from a hardscrabble background. He and two of his wayward cronies vandalized the Maryland School for the Arts. When apprehended by police, Gage shields his accomplices and accepts exclusive culpability for the misdeed. As punishment, the judge sentences Tyler to 200 hours of community service at the school. While there, he watches as one of the students, Nora Clark (Jenna Dewan) as she prepares her senior showcase, a ballet routine. It turns out that Tyler is a naturally gifted dancer with a penchant for hip hop and other urban styles. Will Tyler and Nora merge their two fundamentally different styles into a hybrid? Will their initial antagonism morph into a romantic relationship? The film boasted an obvious chemistry between its co-protagonists. When the shooting ended, Tatum and Dewan started dating and eventually married. Tatum’s rough hewn charm enabled him to graduate to full-fledged stardom.
The film was followed by “Step Up 2: The Streets,” “Step Up 3D,” and “Step Up Revolution.” Each film revisited the premise of how challenging a career as a professional dancer is. I hope that you aren’t expecting any new narratively from “Step Up All In,” the latest iteration of the premise.
As “Step Up All In” kicks off, off-screen narration by Sean Asa (Ryan Guzman) reminds us that being a professional dancer is fraught with challenges. He and his crew, professionally branded as The Mob, have moved from Miami to Los Angeles. They are looking for a break that will enable them to become full-time professional dance ensemble. Initially, they scored a gig dancing in a Nike ad, which paid a cool fee of $50,000. It seems like a promising portent of success. However, months have elapsed without a follow-up job.
As the film opens, The Mob are attending an audition. A rival crew, the Grim Knights, under their ever boastful leader, Jasper (Stephen “Stev-o” Jones), is competing for the same role. In this initial scene, we witness some compelling dance moves by members of each crew. Alas, the Grim Knights beat out The Mob for the gig. Brimming with bravura, Jasper gloats over the fact that his crew has prevailed, much to the chagrin of Sean and his compatriots.
Later that night, The Mob and the Grim Reapers end up at the same night club. Another impromptu dance off ensues. Once again, the Grim Reapers show up their rivals. Sean’s colleagues in The Mob are humiliated.
The next day, Sean’s sidekicks advise him that they have reached their breaking point. The aspiring dancers can’t handle any further failure. They cite the fact that the initial money from the Nike commercial has become depleted. They are now way behind in their rent. Over Sean’s protestations, the other members of The Mob are abandoning him and returning to Miami.
However, Sean isn’t ready to throw in the towel. He catches up with his former friend, Moose (Adam Servani, III). Moose’s grandparents run a dance academy. They hire Sean as a handyman, assigning him such demeaning tasks as repairing a broken toilet and changing overhead light bulbs. Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to employ him as a dance instructor? Sean can’t afford an apartment, so he sleeps in a closet at the dance academy.
One day, Sean is surfing the internet. He learns about The Vortex, a potentially lucrative dance competition in Las Vegas’ Caesar’s Palace. The winner will score a three-year contract to perform at the venue. With Moose’s help, Sean assembles a new band of dancers. They perform under the name, LMNTRIX.
The 1987 release, “Dirty Dancing,” ushered in a spate of dance-driven films with a romantic subplots. Other than Broadway star, Jerry Orbach, in a supporting role, the low-budget affair had a no-name cast. The film launched Patrick Swayze’s successful career as an actor. “Dirty Dancing” eventually made more than $200 million worldwide and became the first work to sell over a million copies on the home video market.
The “Step Up” series tried to capture the massive success of “Dirty Dancing.” The series doesn’t even come close. This latest version is particularly problematic. The screenplay by John Swetnam is surprisingly weak. “Into the Storm,” was also scripted by Swetnam and coincidentally is being released opposite this film. His natural disaster film offers a well-defined dramatic trajectory, which is egregiously absent from this film.
The casting of the two leads further contributes to the mediocrity of “Step Up all In” As the male co-protagonist, Ryan Guzman reprises his character from “Step Up Revolution,” the fourth film in the series. Once again, he has all the charisma of a store mannequin. As his leading lady, Briana Evigan is even worse. She resurrects her role as Andie West, the abrasive character from “Step Up 2: The Streets.” Placing them opposite one another suggests that characters from prior films are being randomly cast by using a giant, spinning wheel. Unlike the Swayze/Grey pairing in “Dirty Dancing” and the subsequent Tatum/Dewan duo in the original “Step Up,” there is absolutely no discernible chemistry between these two.
“Step Up All In” does contain some exciting dance routines. Once again, Adam Servani, III, is a delight as the incongruously named character of Moose. The slender, graceful Servani is not only an astoundingly skilled hoofer, he has an appealing screen presence. The impromptu dance routine with Servani and a blonde female sizzles. As Alexxa Brava, emcee of the Vortex promotion, Izabella Miko, exudes a sultry sexual appeal and proves quite funny in her over the top role. These two engaging characters are hardly enough to redeem an otherwise lackluster film.
After a commercially successful debut, the franchise has become progressively less profitable at the box office. Moreover, the story line has become a stale, hackneyed redundancy.
There comes a time when a franchise becomes played out and jumps the proverbial shark. It is time for the “Step Up” series to step aside.
** ½ PG-13 (for some language and suggestive material) 112 minutes
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.