There’s gotta be something right about a movie when half the audience dances up the theater aisles when it’s over. They aren’t complaining that Step Up is a generic, paint-by-number teen dance movie. They weren’t around when Fame (1980) and Flashdance (1983) created the mold a generation ago. Nor do they care that Step Up co-screenwriter Duane Adler told almost the same story in his first movie, 2001’s Save the Last Dance. All they know is that the dancing is fun, the sound track smokes, and most importantly, to quote a few of the teenage girls I heard on the way out, the hunky male lead, Channing Tatum (She’s the Man), is “so-o-o-o hot!”
Step Up‘s formulaic predictability may be one of the reasons audiences love it. Teenagers face tremendous pressure to get into college and get a good job so they can have a solid future — in a world that is terrifyingly unpredictable and threatening to blow up at any moment. It’s no wonder they like fairy tales about characters who are guaranteed to have their dreams come true. I do, too. In fact, the movie is a dream come true for first-time director Anne Fletcher, who’s climbed the Hollywood ladder for years as a choreographer.
It’s set in Baltimore — elegant old neighborhoods and ghettos are side by side on the map but their denizens exist on different planets. Bad boy breakdancer, Tyler Gage (Tatum), meets classically trained ballet dancer, Nora Clark (Jenna Dawan, Take the Lead), at the city’s famed Maryland School of the Arts. Fate intervenes so they become partners for her big senior year showcase presentation. Nora has to get a job offer from a professional dance company after graduation or her widowed Mom is going to make her give up dancing and go to a real college. Tyler, a foster kid with more excuses than dreams, is just taking a break from stealing cars and going nowhere fast.
He wears baggy pants with the crotch down to his knees. She wears swirly short skirts and leg warmers. He’s 6 feet 1 inch with football player shoulders and a sweet smile. She’s 5 feet 3 inches with long brown tresses and feisty eyes. He teaches her to expand her creativity. She teaches him the value of hard work. They kiss. They fight. They mope. Something very bad happens. Tyler realizes he’s a jerk. Nora forgives him. They do a fantastic dance number that combines his wild street-style moves with her formal ballet. Standing ovation.
In Step Up‘s world there are no adult men. No fathers, no teachers, no male role models of any kind. Only women make things happen here — overworked single Moms and the director of the arts school. There’s no racial tension in the schools or on the streets. Tyler’s beloved best friends are African-American brothers Mac (Damaine Radcliff, Glory Road) and little Skinny (De’Shawn Washington), who tease him about being white, but stand by him. More amazing is the depiction of female students. Unlike the back-stabbing girls in such recent teen fare as John Tucker Must Die, My Super Ex-Girlfriend and Stick It, the girls in Step Up seem to have been kissed by the goddess — they actually treat one another decently. Lucy (Drew Sidora, White Chicks) is not only a great singer but Nora’s loyal friend as well. Even more amazing — mothers, pay attention, not all hope is lost — these girls reject their cute but unfaithful boyfriends and take up with boys who treat them with respect. I loved this movie. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, brief violence and innuendo.
— reviewed by Marcianne Miller