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Step Up DVD Review
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"
|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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.