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Step Up DVD Review

Step Up (2006) movie poster Step Up

Theatrical Release: August 11, 2006 / Running Time: 103 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Anne Fletcher / Writers: Duane Adler (story & screenplay), Melissa Rosenberg

Cast: Channing Tatum (Tyler Gage), Jenna Dewan (Nora Clark), Damaine Radcliff (Mac Carter), De'Shawn Washington (Skinny Carter), Mario (Miles Darby), Drew Sidora (Lucy Avila), Rachel Griffiths (Director Gordon), Josh Henderson (Brett Dolan), Tim Lacatena (Andrew), Alyson Stoner (Camille), Heavy D (Omar), Deirdre Lovejoy (Katherine Clark), Jane Beard (Lena Freeman), Richard Pelzman (Bill Freeman), Carlyncia Peck (Mrs. Carter)

Songs: Yung Joc (featuring 3LW) - "Bout It", Ciara (featuring Chamillionaire) - "Get Up", Sean Paul (featuring Keyshia Cole) - "(When You Gonna) Give It up to Me", Petey Pablo - "Show Me The Money", Kelis - "80's Joint", Samantha Jade - "Step Up", Chris Brown - "Say Goodbye", Anthony Hamilton - "Dear Life", Drew Sidora (featuring Mario) - "For The Love" and "Til The Dawn", Clipse - "Ain't Cha", YoungBloodZ - "Imma Shine", Dolla - "Feelin' Myself", Deep Side - "Lovely", Gina Rene - "U Must Be", Jamie Scott - "Made"

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By Albert Gutierrez

In the vast history of dance films, the storyline is would appear to be hard to vary, resulting in some efforts seeming remarkably similar, and certain attempts being remarkably superior. Step Up is simply another dance film with different variables, but that shouldn't stop someone from enjoying it. Indeed, the story can be told only so many times in so many ways, yet each tries to offer a unique perspective of the art of dancing. The Broadway Melody (1929), which many consider the first movie musical, was a very vague "let's put on a show!" affair that focused more on the songs and dance than trying to tell a story.
Nearly twenty-five years later, that same concept was employed in 1953's The Band Wagon but offering the concept of two leads who initially don't get along. By the time 1984's Footloose hit theaters, the dance movie had settled comfortably to entail a strong story supported by music and dance. Now, here we are with Step Up, which offers its own take on the genre, though one which seems awfully familiar.

If there was ever a "Movie Dictionary", in which a movie's basic theme is defined by a single word, Step Up easily could be found on the page containing the word "predictable." The recent Touchstone film is 100 minutes of cookie-cutter characters and a connect-the-dots plot, overlooked and hard to notice thanks to the impressive choreography and piercing music. Fitting the bill as a general lazy Saturday afternoon movie, Step Up covers the basics of every other formulaic dance movie. While still adhering to a tired formula, it makes for a diverting experience.

The story is very much a paint-by-numbers affair. At once, you see each part/color and immediately know and understand how they fit together to make one pretty picture: take a brooding teenager out of his element, introduce him to a world unlike his own, and watch as he adapts and learns to appreciate his abilities and potential. Our brooding teenager of choice is Tyler Gage (Channing Tatum, She's The Man), a foster child who spends his time stealing cars, playing basketball, and busting a groove on the streets of Baltimore. When he gets caught vandalizing the stage at Maryland School of the Arts, his sentence is 200 hours of community service for the school. He doesn't take the job seriously, which doesn't sit well with headmaster Director Gordon (Rachel Griffiths, "Brothers & Sisters"). She conveys the severity of his actions, noting the offense will cost a prospective student his or her scholarship since school funds had to be used to repair the stage.

Tyler (Channing Tatum) doesn't seem to care when the judge orders 200 hours of community service for him in "Step Up." Lucy (Drew Sidora, right) teases Nora (Jenna Dewan, center) about her dance abilities.

With the "have-nots" represented through Tyler, Nora Clark (Jenna Dewan, of 2006's superior dance film, Take the Lead) assumes a role as the most prominent of the "haves." She is a smart and talented student who would rather dance, despite her career-focused mother's (Deidre Lovejoy) objections. Sound familiar? It should, as nearly any movie in which a teenager finds joy in a creative zone offers a disapproving parent as well. Nora's convenient problem lies in her dance partner spraining his ankle, leading her to audition other students in order to perform in the Senior Showcase. After many a bad tryout, Tyler comes in and mumbles, "I'll give it a go." Nora sees potential in his moves, and after some pleading with Director Gordon, the two set forth in making a dance for the Senior Showcase.

Thrown into the mix are the jealous boyfriend Brett (Josh Henderson, "Desperate Housewives"), best friends in the form of gossipy Lucy (Drew Sidora) and unaware-of-Tyler's-other-hobby Mac Carter (Damaine Radcliff, Glory Road), and prospective music artist Miles Darby (R&B singer Mario). While those characters all get their own subplots, the main focus is on how Tyler and Nora get along while planning a dance that involves the best of both their worlds. All comes expectedly crashing and burning, once Nora's partner's sprained ankle heals and he looks forward to resuming what he and Nora originally planned for the all-important show.

To prove he's committed to dancing, Tyler (Channing Tatum) must first learn the pliι. Believe me, it looks much better in motion.

If there is a comprehensive checklist of every existing teen movie clichι and you used it to keep score while watching Step Up, it's entirely possible that before long, you'd have a sheetful of checks. What the writers attempt in an "original" plot is the familiar story of how two polar-opposites (the street thug and the rich girl) find common ground (dancing), but it's all been done before. Of course, a misunderstanding leads to temporary separation. Just as naturally, this misunderstanding is resolved, and by the end of the film, everyone's in a good mood. But first, a few forced dramatic elements are thrown in, including, despite its blatant cries for sympathy, perhaps the least evocative screen death in cinema history. If anyone remembers Matt Dillon's "Let's do it for Johnny!" line from The Outsiders, it gets repeated here, though for different reasons and under different circumstances.

The story is weak, but the acting is very much a mixed bag. Jenna Dewan is at best a decent actress with great potential, but it would be a hard sell for me to think of Channing Tatum as anything more than a pretty boy actor (hearing him "recite" Shakespeare in She's The Man was teeth-grinding). The main criticism against the central couple refers to the one factor that could save this film: chemistry. You can see a passion for dancing in both performers, that their hearts are into the steps and the turns.
The same cannot be said about their chemistry, however, and it's the only thing that does not make their dancing or their acting believable. You can have passion, you can have drive, but if there is no chemistry between your two leads, it ultimately does not work. Step Up's finale could wow the audience a million times over, but the movie still falls short. Through the end, I could really only ever see Dewan and Tatum as two actors going through the motions of making a movie.

If the actors and story turn you away, the dancing and choreography more than make up for it. Thanks to Anne Fletcher (who previously choreographed Bring It On and dozens of other high-profile films), the complex sequences offer quite a masterful blend of hip-hop and contemporary dancing, along with strong performances of various other types of dance. Kudos must be given out to the leads Tatum and Dewan, who handle the work like finalists on the reality show "So You Think You Can Dance." While the dancing does get slightly campy at times (i.e. a dance-off scene reminiscent of You Got Served), it's the little and even clichιd moments that make the film worth watching. Nora takes Tyler to her secret place (which all heroines seem to have), and they proceed to dance among the rooftop by the wharf. The scene has the two characters feeling each other out, testing their compatibility as dancers. This type of scene has been seen many times before (I'd say "Dancing in the Dark" from The Band Wagon is the best example), and here, it is the highlight of Step Up, not too surprising since it requires little acting and writing, two areas where the movie leaves much to be desired.

Lucy (Drew Sidora) and Miles (Mario) get a chance to shine at a party. Mac (Damaine Radcliff) is upset when he learns Tyler's been skipping their basketball games to teach kids how to dance.

In trying to appeal to the youth generation that it's clearly aimed at, Step Up was backed by a marketing campaign that looked to the Internet. Rather than offering the usual official movie website, the wise decision was made to simply set up a MySpace page, giving prospective viewers and theatergoers a chance to interact and socialize with each other and with those attached to the movie. The most interactive feature of the site was a MySpace contest, in which anyone could send home movies of their dancing to Samantha Jade's "Step Up", in the hopes that they would be among the top five allowed to film as an extra during a scene. More about this contest can be found in the bonus features below.

The unorthodox marketing campaign paid off. Despite offering moviegoers little that hadn't been served out before, Step Up opened in second-place and became one of the summer box office's biggest sleepers. It earned a robust $65 million in North America, more than five times the movie's modest production budget and enough to make it the Walt Disney Company's highest-performing non-Disney-branded release of 2006.

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Buy Step Up (Widescreen Edition) DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (1.33:1 Fullscreen Sold Separately)
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English),
Dolby Surround (French),
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish;
Closed Captioned
Release Date: December 19, 2006
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99 (Reduced from $29.99)
Black Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

Usually on recent films it's hard to find new ways to say that the movie looks good. Suffice it to say: the movie looks good. Like the yellow-tinted one-sheet (seen at the top of this review), the movie aspires to an urban look, primarily with shades of brown and white and a splash of other colors thrown in. Some night scenes are darker than they probably should be, and many of the party scenes have a vague brightness to them, likely from the dance lights. The film is available in both widescreen and fullscreen versions, and naturally if you want to see the movie, pick it up in all of its 2.35:1 anamorphic glory. Otherwise the finale of the "Senior Showcase" will simply be the finale of the "nior Showc."

The film relies heavily on music, from a wealth of hip-hop and R&B artists. With audio presented in both a 5.1 Surround (English) and 2.0 Surround (French), the 5.1 is slightly too powerful on the music. It even drowns out dialogue at times (which for some may be a good thing), though does support the dance sequences. I sampled the 2.0 French track and it's naturally an even balance, though the music still drowns other audio out at times.

Co-choreographer Jamal Sims offers his thoughts on the young actors he trained for the film in the featurette "Making the Moves." In a brief deleted scene, Tyler sneaks into class right before a test. Director Anne Fletcher smiles as she judges one of many hopeful dancers.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and DESIGN

You would think that a film primarily about dancing would feature a documentary about the history of it, or even a nice choreography feature, but instead we get a few amateur videos, some deleted scenes, and a brief featurette. Before those, however, is an audio commentary with the director/choreographer Anne Fletcher, co-choreographer Jamal Sims, and the two leads, Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan. I had saved the commentary for last, hoping it could be the redeeming factor of the entire DVD and a justification for watching the film a third time.
It starts off fun, as the four of them are actually on conference call from various places. Fletcher, who is keen to discuss a lot of technical and serious parts of the film, dominates the commentary, dispatching a lot of information ranging from where and when they shot scenes to other work done by performers (and how she cast several) to even some interpretations of what dance is. For the most part, the four are there just to watch the film and offer slightly informative production anecdotes or complimenting whoever is on screen. Ultimately, it's actually worth a listen, though the speakers seem to just converse together until someone finds something worth really talking about. A word of warning: Fletcher may offer a lot of information, but her voice reminds me of a perky cheerleader, and half the commentary is spent with the four of them just laughing and trying to tell stories.

A brief and EPK-ish featurette, "Making the Moves" (4:38) focuses on the choreography and moves, primarily featuring the two choreographers Anne Fletcher and Jamal Sims, with comments by several of the stars. It's got a bit of behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage, but relies far too much on movie clips.

Also offered are seven brief Deleted Scenes (4:12), with optional audio commentary provided by Anne Fletcher. They are mostly short extensions, with a few very short scenes dropped, including one where a judge orders 300 additional hours of community service for Tyler.

And what's a DVD without a brief reel of Bloopers (1:35)? This is mostly dance moves gone wrong, there are a few lines messed up, and an odd closing featuring director Anne Fletcher and some over the top crying by Damaine Radcliff.

A BET Music Special was produced for the film, as well as a fifteen minute "On the Set" featurette, yet both are noticeably absent, perhaps due to licensing issues.

Next to the commentary, the meaty bonus materials have to do more with the MySpace dance contest. First up is a featurette simply titled "Contest" (4:20), in which the judges (Ciara, Jenna Dewan, Channing Tatum, and director Anne Fletcher) view the amateur videos and decide who is best suited for the all-important position of "extra dancer" in the movie. (A few also got to becoming dancers in Ciara's music video.) A lot of the featurette showcases the foursome laughing or praising whichever video they're watching.

The judges laugh aloud as a little boy starts to join his father on the dance floor...er, parking lot. What's a Step Up DVD without the Step Up music video? It's supplied by Samantha Jade. The 16x9-enhanced Main Menu shows off a colorful background and clips of the movie.

Following the featurette is a "Contestant Montage" (3:18) showcasing excerpts from the best of the submitted videos and set to Samantha Jade's "Step Up." It varies in quality since they mostly came from home video cameras and webcams. Some contestants opted to dance in a living room, others went so far as to practically film their own music video on location with back-up dancers.
The five "Winner Dance Videos" (13:16) can be played separately or with a play-all option, and I must say now, if you were getting tired of hearing the song "Step Up" during the featurette and montage, you'll want to mute the television, as it plays over each video.

Four music videos that interweave movie footage with artist-specific footage are offered for some of songs from the soundtrack. Samantha Jade's "Step Up" (3:34) has been heard many times over in the bonus material, it would have been a crime if the music video wasn't included. Sean Paul (featuring Keyshia Cole) offers "(When You Gonna) Give It Up To Me" (4:07) which wasn't quite my cup of tea. "Say Goodbye" (4:28) by Chris Brown is a sad romantic ballad that is probably the best of the bunch. Available both in the Music Videos section and in the Contest section is "Get Up" (5:06) by Ciara featuring Chamillionaire. Finally, there's a 30-second Soundtrack promo, and expectedly, no theatrical trailer.

The transparent-art DVD comes in a standard black keepcase containing very simple cover art, somewhat reminiscent of the one used for Dance With Me and oddly, Ghost (unless it's just me). The only extra inside the case is a two-sided insert featuring chapter listings and an ad for Invincible on DVD. The 16x9 menus offer some animation with clips from the movie and a loop of the stinging violin and piano music of The YoungBloodZ's "Imma Shine." The disc opens with previews for The Invisible, and The Heart of the Game, along with a DVD trailer for The Guardian. From the Sneak Peeks page you can also find DVD trailers for Invincible, plus the blockbusters Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe - Four-Disc Extended Edition. There's also a Blu-Ray promo that's been making the rounds on Buena Vista DVDs, promising several titles "coming" but offering no specific date.

Nora leads her dancers in the powerful finale of the Senior Showcase. The dance on a rooftop leads to a near-kiss right out of a romance novel for Tyler (Channing Tatum) and Nora (Jenna Dewan).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Step Up isn't entirely a bad film; it's simply a rehash of everything that has come before it. What distinguishes it are the simple variations to the plot and characters, which only seem original if viewers haven't already seen earlier films sharing the same type of plot and characters. Many young people may be unfamiliar with or uncaring toward some of the great dancing films (like Dirty Dancing, Flashdance, and Strictly Ballroom) and revered classics (like An American in Paris, West Side Story and 42nd Street) that have come before. Perhaps Step Up may be the Swing Time or Top Hat of today's youth, and maybe it will be remembered more fondly twenty years from now.

But the movie ultimately lacks believability from the leads, a vital factor in the overall success of a dance movie.
Magazines.com, Inc.
Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas may have been stuck in the earlier and boring by-the-book dance film Save the Last Dance, but at least there was some fire and passion between them. It's just not apparent between Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan, which is a pity as they are much better dancers than Stiles and Thomas, mainly because they are better-trained as dancers than actors.

Just as the movie falls short of being worthwhile, so does the DVD. Its commentary is surprisingly informative and fun at the same time, and is perhaps the only valuable bonus on the disc. Commentaries, though, are not for everyone, and the loud and boisterous nature of this one may still turn viewers away. For those who actually like dance films, and use them as inspiration for creating their own moves, I'd recommend Step Up as it contains numerous and impressive dance sequences. But for anyone who actually wants a movie worth watching in its entirety more than once, wait for this to come on TV.

More on this DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

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Related Reviews:
Step Up 2 The Streets • High School Musical (Remix) • High School Musical 2 (Deluxe Dance Edition)
Flashdance • Shall We Dance? (2004) • Shall We Dance? (1997)
Stop-Loss • The Cheetah Girls 2 • Chicago (The Razzle-Dazzle Edition) • Newsies • High School Musical 3: Senior Year
Annapolis • Invincible • The Chorus • Glory Road • Camp Rock
Stick It • Make It or Break It: Volume One • Goal! The Dream Begins • Stay Alive • The Rookie
10 Things I Hate About You (10th Anniversary Edition) • Varsity Blues (Deluxe Edition)
Directed by Anne Fletcher: The Proposal (Deluxe Edition) | Choreographed by Anne Fletcher: Ice Princess • The Pacifier

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Reviewed January 15, 2007.