Amiably fluffy, bouncy and almost proudly derivative, it seems the makers of Step Up want you to dance in your seat and don't really care if you've heard the tune before. Cribbing bits of Fame, 8 Mile, Breakin' and Save the Last Dance, the film is like a fax of a photocopy, spinning an overly familiar tale of forbidden love from across the tracks. Channing Tatum stars as Tyler, a tough Baltimore teen who specializes in acrobatic street dancing. When he's not pulling back flips, he and his boys are busy vandalizing property and starting fights. But when Tyler gets busted and sentenced to community service at an arts academy, he meets haughty ballet student Nora (Jenna Dewan, who hoofed it through Antonio Banderas' lame tango drama Take the Lead). Nora's dance partner oh-so-conveniently breaks his ankle, Tyler takes his place, and the rest is overtly predictable: A romance blooms, and her friends accuse her of slumming it while his crew is upset he can't spare the time to steal cars anymore. Tyler is faced with pursuing a dream or "keeping it real," though we can tell his heart is not really into crime because he's such a softie with his younger foster siblings (the ol' thug with a heart of gold).
There's plenty of faux tragedy, melodrama and sermonizing: "The Overweight Lover" Heavy D ('80s rapper who lost 160 pounds to pursue an acting career) is a chop-shop owner who lays down the "stay in school" wisdom like a Buddha in a track suit. First-time director Anne Flecther has extensive credits as a choreographer, but her inexperience behind the camera shows in her clumsy pacing and shaky handling of actors. To be fair, she's working from a script without a single line of memorable dialogue or a truly original sequence to its credit. The dance floor action isn't quite cutting edge, but is exciting enough to serve as an effective infomercial for the sound track, which features Kelis, Chamillionaire and Petey Pablo. With its mildly pleasant paint-by-numbers romance and lively dance numbers, Step Up is an old fashioned crowd pleaser for the young and not-too-discriminating crowd.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].