If I am lucky enough to be reincarnated, I want to return as the sort of person who frequents places where awesome dance battles break out. You sit down at the bar or restaurant or wherever, and all of a sudden somebody cranks up the hip-hop and people in hoodies are leaping off tables and flying through the air, angrily stomping their feet and contemptuously shaking body parts at each other.
This sort of thing happens a lot in the Step Up movies, though less often in real life. Which is really a shame, because who wouldn’t want to settle their electric bill with a dance-off?
Step Up All In — no colon, no dash, the title all one big, bright, breathless thought — is the fifth film in this hyperactive series, which shows no sign of slowing down (clearly, up next is Step Up: Tokyo Drift). The filmmakers have grown shrewd over time, understanding that dance-offs, not plots, are what this franchise’s fans want to see.
This time nobody’s dancing to earn a scholarship or to save their home or even to get a million hits on YouTube. Step Up All In strips the story to the bone — let’s dance and, oh, by the way, maybe get paid for it — and in the process serves up the best and most unforgettable numbers so far.
When last we saw him in Step Up Revolution, Sean (Ryan Guzman) and his crew The Mob had found big success in Miami. They moved to Los Angeles, did their Nike commercial — and then couldn’t find more work. Humiliated in public by their rivals The Grim Knights, who seem awfully angry for a gang of dancers, The Mob slinks home to Miami. But Sean refuses to leave.
Then he spots an ad for a dance competition in Las Vegas, which awards the winners a three-year contract and a show of their own at Caesar’s Palace. But he’s got no crew!
So he calls his pal Moose (Adam G. Sevani, veteran of all but the original movie, which makes him the elder statesmen of the Step Up franchise). Moose has a real job as an engineer, but Sean easily persuades him to run around L.A., plucking dancers off the street and gearing up for the biggest, wildest, most competitive dance-off since the last movie.
One of the dancers is Andie from Step Up 2: The Streets (Briana Evigan), and you can tell right away she’s going to sass the pants right off young Sean. Actually, though, there’s nothing as frivolous as sex in Step Up All In: This is a relatively wholesome movie, aside from some of the more lascivious booty-shaking. The romance is all PG; only one kind of hip-thrusting matters here.
What’s truly amazing about Step Up All In is how the choreographers have managed to up the ante not only throughout this movie but over the course of all the movies. With each film, the choreography grows ever more astounding. No two dance sequences ever look alike, yet they’re all uniquely athletic and energetic. About halfway through, Sean and Moose film the crew’s audition, a mad scientist sequence that is such pure eye candy you think: How on earth are they going to top this? And then they do.
You can make fun of this franchise all you want, but it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And it shouldn’t, because it’s fun, and we need more big stupid fun at the movies. When Moose asks plaintively, “Does it always have to end up in a giant dance battle?” we happily think: Yes, Moose. Yes, it does.
Cast: Ryan Guzman, Briana Evigan, Adam G. Sevani, Alyson Stoner, Misha Gabriel Hamilton.
Director: Trish Sie.
Screenwriters: John Swetnam, Duane Adler.
A Summit Entertainment release. Running time: 112 minutes. Some language and suggestive material. Playing at area theaters.