She steps to conquer

Step Up Revolution

Just wait ’til that car’s owner shows up.

Just wait ’til that car’s owner shows up.

Rated 2.0

Step Up Revolution is the fourth installment in the street-dancing franchise that has been strutting onto movie screens every other year since 2006. The good news is that, after bottoming out with the pathetically dismal Step Up 3D, the series rises again to the mediocrity it attained in the first two movies.

Revolution’s script is credited to Jenny Mayer, whose filmography is otherwise barren. Perhaps she was a promising student in some screenwriting class—though, that doesn’t seem likely. The credits also say “Based on characters created by Duane Adler,” writer of the first picture. This is most odd, since the only characters the two movies have in common are the ones that spell “step up”—and surely Adler doesn’t claim to have created those. Ah well, Hollywood’s writers’ guild has its own rules, and they’re not always easy to understand.

At least Mayer’s script improves somewhat on the cringe-making plot of Step Up 3D (dance troupe must win the big contest or be thrown out by cruel landlord). This time it’s a YouTube contest for flash-mob videos; the first group to rack up 10 million hits will win a prize of $100,000. Vying for this prize are two Miami buddies, Sean (Ryan Guzman) and Eddy (Misha Gabriel), ringleaders of a group who call themselves simply “The Mob.”

Into the story comes Emily (Kathryn McCormick), with whom Sean has a meet cute when he mistakes her for a new employee at the hotel where he works. Cute turns to sexy in an impromptu dance on the beach—but like Cinderella at the ball, Emily vanishes before Sean can even learn her name.

The suspense doesn’t last long. The next morning at breakfast, Sean finds himself waiting on Emily and her father, Bill Anderson (Peter Gallagher), a high-rolling developer from Cleveland. Anderson is the new owner of the hotel where Sean works, and he has just fired Eddy for showing up late and sloppily dressed for a full-staff meeting.

Worse yet, Anderson is planning a massive hotel complex in Miami that will demolish Sean’s entire working-class neighborhood, obliterating its rich cultural mix. Emily’s sympathies lie with Sean and his neighbors, and when she learns that they are The Mob, she suggests they change their approach from “performance art” to “protest art,” staging step-dance protests against the faceless, soulless corporate world her father represents.

At Sean’s insistence, and against her wishes, Emily keeps her true identity a secret from the others, but inevitably Eddy finds out she’s Anderson’s daughter. Feeling betrayed, he decides to strike back. (There’s also a hint of homosexual jealousy in Eddy, but not enough to jeopardize the movie’s PG-13 rating.) Eddy stages a flash mob to disrupt an elegant reception of Anderson’s—dancers barge in wearing camouflage and gas masks, tossing gas grenades (apparently harmless) before going into their dance.

Unfortunately, this scene has been rendered unintentionally ugly by recent events in Aurora, Colorado. No fault of the filmmakers, of course, but even without that association, it’s hard to imagine how this stunt of Eddy’s could result in anything but a stampeding panic, with dozens trampled to death in the rush.

The cast, except for Gallagher, is the usual Step Up gaggle of hungry and inexperienced unknowns. Whether any of them can build a career beyond this film remains to be seen—but it’ll probably require a healthy dose of good luck. Director Scott Speer juggles the underseasoned cast and the script’s overcooked clichés about as well as could be expected, but he needn’t start rehearsing his Oscar speech just yet.

And the dancing? Well, it’s got a good beat, and it’s fun to watch. But like the dances in Step Up 3D (they’re in 3-D here, too), these are so digitally enhanced, that one wonders if they were digitally created as well—and the mere suspicion plants a fatal disbelief that undermines all the sweat and toil on the screen. Some of the moves seem to defy the laws of physics, and the editing of the dance numbers has a staccato, speeded-up look—as if the dancers, whatever their talents, couldn’t quite do their stepping up as fast or as nimbly as the movie wanted them to.