In Step Up Revolution, director Scott Speer uses dance as an allegory of the struggle to transcend the hopelessness of mankind’s existence. Ha ha! Just kidding. It’s really just a dance movie, interrupted sporadically for PG-13 romance, bad acting, ridiculous dialogue (“I’m your boss, not your homie”) and earnest “let’s put on a show to save our homes!” spirit. Contrary to its message, it will not change the world. But the dancing will make you sit up and take notice.
Filmed in Miami and Miami Beach and showing off both cities so gorgeously you’ll want to vacation here even if already live here, Revolution is the fourth film in the series that started back when Channing Tatum played Tyler Gage, a rebellious street dancer sentenced to community service who falls for a ballet dancer at a performing arts school in Baltimore. Tatum has moved on to greater and more scantily clad roles now, but the Step Up train rolls ever onward, buoyed by upbeat soundtracks, killer choreography and the fact that this sort of street dancing looks great in 3D. Plot and performance are irrelevant. What matters are the moves, and Step Up Revolution has more than enough to keep even the most casual fan appreciating the beats.
Like Tyler Gage, the not-really-very-bad boy of the movie, Sean (Ryan Guzman), isn’t much of a rebel. He even has a day job as a waiter at a swank South Beach hotel, which is where he meets Emily (Kathryn McCormick), daughter of the hotel’s owner and developer (Peter Gallagher). But Sean also has dreams, namely staging a flash mob event with his crew that is so awesome it gets the most hits on YouTube (the movie’s joke about the difficulty of dethroning a singing kitten video is actually a pretty good one). Sean’s sister wants him to apply to a management training program, but Sean stands firm, and you know to take him seriously because he’s rocking an old-school Florida Marlins baseball cap.
Emily, too, has aspirations; she wants to audition with a local dance company. Dad wants her to move home to Cleveland with him, because as we all know, the fashionable and the wealthy just can’t get enough of the Rust Belt. Dad reluctantly agrees to let her try out, though, and soon Emily, in addition to practicing her ballet, is pulling off astounding feats with the rest of Sean’s Mob, a group of dancers so mercurial they can easily evade police pursuit on Ocean Drive or in downtown Miami, where streets are not usually swiftly navigated. In fact, the Ocean Drive sequence that opens the movie looks like a lot of fun, even though I know in my heart if I were one of the drivers stuck in the traffic while all these idiot kids and their bouncing cars blocked my access to the causeway, I’d be ready to step up and start a revolution, all right.
Trouble comes when Emily’s dad decides to redevelop Sean’s neighborhood and throw out all the hard-working locals to provide retail space for the rich, who clearly won’t mind the things that wash up out of the Miami River from time to time. Then Emily comes between Sean and his best friend, and not even an inspiring “It’s not OK to make art for fun anymore” speech can smooth things over. Must be time to dance.
There’s fun to be had spotting local landmarks, like the parking lot/event space on Lincoln Road or the wall at the New World Symphony, although locals will have to shake off the geographical inconsistencies of Sean’s neighborhood, which appears to be simultaneously on the Miami River and right next to the AmericanAirlines Arena. And perhaps we should reassure outsiders that as Miamians we don’t spend a lot of time hanging out under highway overpasses all that much here, unless we’re sex offenders or filming a Dr Pepper commercial with Pitbull. Then again, we don’t dance this much in public, either. Step Up Revolution definitely makes you think life would be more fun if we did.
Cast: Kathryn McCormick, Ryan Guzman, Cleopatra Coleman, Peter Gallagher.
Director: Scott Speer.
Screenwriters: Duane Adler, Jenny Mayer.
Producers: Erik Feig, Jennifer Gibgot, Adam Shankman, Patrick Wachsberger.
A Summit Entertainment release. Running time: 97 minutes. Suggestive dancing, language. Opens Friday July 27 at area theaters.