February 25, 2008

Nice Moves?

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If you want to watch hot, sweaty people gyrating their hips and spinning on their heads for 98 minutes, then Step Up 2 the Streets was made for you. The film takes its place in a growing genre of dance films that includes You Got Served, Honey, and Stomp the Yard.

Despite the similar name, Step Up 2 the Streets is a sequel to the box office hit Step Up for marketing purposes only. Apart from a similar theme of defying social norms and a cameo by Step Up’s teen heartthrob Channing Tatum, Step Up 2 has its own unrelated and equally dim plotline. Jon Chu, fresh out of USC’s film program, makes his directorial debut with a movie that has more value as a showcase of underground break dancing than as a feature film driven by plot and character development.

Step Up 2 awkwardly attempts to push the themes of individualism and self-expression against a cruel and conformist society. Early in the film, a news anchor describes a police crackdown on repeated “public disturbances” committed by the lead character, Andie (Briana Evigan) and her break dancing crew, the “410.” Andie’s involvement in the most recent of these over-dramatized and impromptu dance performances sets up the central conflict of the film. Andie’s surrogate mother, Sarah, gives her an ultimatum: shape up and fly right, or be sent off to an aunt in Texas. Andie makes it clear that she would rather gouge out her own eyeballs with a soupspoon than head to the dreaded Lone-Star state. Unlike most people, Andie actually wants to stay in Baltimore, rather than leave it at the first available opportunity. She fatefully decides to audition at the preppy, Julliard-wannabe Maryland School of the Arts (MSA) to avoid separation from her crew. She begins to pack her bags after a botched audition, but of course fate has something else in store for her.

At first, Andie is written off as a rough-around-the-edges “street dancer” who does not belong in the structured and disciplined MSA, but, in a dialogue reminiscent of My Fair Lady, the powers-that-be at MSA decide they can transform Andie into a dancer with class and finesse. At this point, the film’s clichés begin to cascade beyond the endurable limit.

Intermittently dispersed between long and seemingly immaterial (but pleasurable) dance scenes lies a typical Romeo and Juliet love story. Andie plays the lovable orphan from the “neighborhood,” a racially diverse working class community who raised her on tough love. Romeo, a.k.a. Chase Collins (Robert Hoffman) is just the opposite; he is a pretty boy from a privileged family on the other side of town. Chase has spent his life conforming to the dance norms of ballet and structured dancing, under the watchful eye of MSA’s headmaster, big brother Blake. Andie and Blake’s differences cause them to have a rocky relationship initially, though it evolves into a friendship after they share their common love of street dancing. Meanwhile, Andie struggles to stay connected to her old crew without jeopardizing her enrollment at MSA. This is a sole bright spot of acting in the film, and Briana Evigan gives a possibly breakout performance.

There are too many life lessons in what should be a more relaxed film. After every adrenaline filled dance battle, Step Up 2 takes a distinctly preachy tone: “Its not where you’re from, its where you’re at.” Imaginative choreography and slightly above-par acting could’ve compensated for the forgettable story of the streets had the movie not shoved one-liners down the viewer’s throat every five minutes. One usually sees movies for two reasons: to be entertained, and to witness an emotional or thought provoking narrative. Step Up 2 does not offer much in terms of the latter, but as a piece of entertainment, it is unquestionably successful.