The questionable concept of mixing ballet with hip-hop dance moves is explored only as far as Line Dance choreography will allow in a cliche-riddled romance movie that coasts on the strength of its two charismatic leads Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan. Tyler Gage (Tatum—Supercross) is a Baltimore ghetto hood sent to do community service at the city’s Maryland School of the Arts for his involvement in trashing the school’s stage facility with his car-thief friends.
Cupid’s arrow flies when Tyler offers to stand in as a dance partner to ballerina Nora (Dewan) to assist in her upcoming senior showcase. Nora’s fickle nature and Tyler’s lack of discipline threaten to sabotage the couple’s romance even as Tyler’s ghetto reality takes a heavy toll on his sense of desperation.
Tyler is a white kid growing up in a black ghetto where he squanders his time stealing cars and hustling cash with his best friend Mac (Damaine Radcliff) and Mac’s feisty little brother Skinny (De’Shawn Washington). At the top of the film the three friends are goofing around one night when Skinny breaks a window on the ground level of a large building and disappears inside.
Tyler and Mac follow the boy and walk the empty halls of what turns out to be an arts school. In one of the most telling scenes of the movie the three boys discover the school’s auditorium and begin trying on various costumes that send them into an oblivious reverie of vandalism.
Not only do these kids have no respect for private property, but they also have no regard for the arts. A security guard arrives and Tyler allows himself to be caught so that Mac and Skinny can escape.
Once he’s sentenced to serve community service as a janitor at the school that he vandalized Tyler soon trades in his mop for a girlfriend. It’s a glaring pothole in the story that Tyler so effortlessly casts off his court appointed janitorial duties in lieu of dancing with Nora, but it’s the silly dance sequences that send the movie into a tailspin like a hummingbird with motion sickness.
Choreographer-turned-director Anne Fletcher (choreographer on Bring It On) makes an obvious mistake in choreographing the dancing in her directorial debut. Step Up, as the film’s title vaguely illustrates, is a story about dance.
It has a skeletal narrative template from Romeo and Juliet to underscore what should be a celebration of cultural sharing between the highbrow discipline of ballet with the street dance form of hip-hop. However the screenwriters (Duane Adler and Melissa Rosenberg) neglect to outline the stern prejudices that exist between the vastly different styles of dance.
Step Up is a weak movie because it barely touches the surface of its primary subjects, dance and the inner city struggle of both impoverished and privileged teens. No one in the story tries hard enough, and neither did the filmmakers. MTW