Just going by the ever-so-fickle star rating, this is would not seem to be a movie I’m recommending, or am even saying is good, and in a way, that pains me. John Chu’s Step Up 3D is a big, dumb dog of a movie, yes. It’s loud and clumsy and none too bright. Yet for those very reasons, it’s also kind of hard to hate.
After the surprise hit that was Step Up (2006) and its sequel, the hokey and a-bit-too-self-serious Step Up 2: The Streets (2008), director Chu (who also helmed the second installment) has finally figured out how to make one of these things entertaining. That’s not to say that with Step Up 3D Chu has made a good (or even mildly intelligent) movie. However, by embracing the inherent cheesiness that comes not only with the gimmicky nature of 3D, but also with this series’ penchant for cookie-cutter melodrama and a world inhabited by people who get really upset when others dance as well as they do, he has actually made a flick that’s kind of fun, even if a lot of that fun feels accidental.
Step Up 3D follows Moose (Adam G. Sevani), the nerdy kid from the second film, as he heads off to college to study engineering, giving up his dreams of dance at the behest of his parents. Moose, however, immediately catches the eye of Luke (Rick Malambri, Surrogates), a would-be documentarian and dance guru, after Moose accidentally one-ups a member of The Samurais, an apparently evil dance crew (they wear all black, after all). Luke appears to be some sort of Christ-like dance connoisseur, recruiting wayward dancers to his crew, The Pirates, and to his warehouse-loft practice space (complete with stacks of boom-boxes and a wall o’ Nikes), luring them in with hazy philosophizing and his perpetual three-day stubble. His turn-ons include extreme rooftop dance workouts, taking his shirt off and never actually being seen dancing.
But there are some problems that even dance can’t solve, like being six months behind on your rent, so The Pirates must win a dance competition to save their home. The only thing standing in their way is the nefarious and sassy Julien (Joe Slaughter), the leader of The Samurais and the arch-nemesis of Luke.
The rest of the movie generally consists of various plot twists and dance-offs, the latter of which work well in conjunction with the film’s stellar use of 3D, the best I’ve seen since My Bloody Valentine came out in three dimensions last year. Sure, this film is gimmicky, but that’s the point. I mean, for an extra three or four bucks, you better give me something, even if it’s as goofy as a 3D CGI Icee drink floating over the audience.
The other draw is the dance, which isn’t much of a departure from other movies of this type—besides some fellow going by the name of “Madd Chadd” showing up every so often to do The Robot. The dance sequences are shot in a pretty restrained manner and, whether by design or accident, work well with the 3D. Even saying that, the one dance number set to an occasionally silly remix of Fred Astaire’s recording of “I Won’t Dance” from Roberta (1935) is technically impressive and a nice, quaint respite from a lot of the film’s attempts at freneticism.
Really, this movie isn’t recommended unless you’re an aficionado of bad cinema. Yet in it’s own way, Step Up 3D is dumb, entertaining fun, which is still more than I can say about a lot of movies. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.