Sunday, October 5, 2008


"27 Dresses" director Anne Fletcher's urban dance musical "Step Up" (**1/2 out of ****) qualifies as a predictable but entertaining teen movie about the society's haves and have-not's and the peculiar circumstances that bring them together. Essentially, "Step Up" resembles "Save the Last Dance for Me" but with the roles reversed and the setting modified. Jenna Dewan of "Take the Lead" plays the heroine—Nora Clark—who lives to dance and can imagine nothing else but dancing in her life. Her mom worries about her daughter and her future and pushes her to think about college rather than getting a job as a professional dancer. Nora is the best ballerina at the Maryland School of the Arts, and she cherishes the memory of her late father who supported her dancing aspirations with unconditional love. Vanilla Ice look-alike Channing Tatum of "Havoc" plays the hero--Tyler Gage—a "Rocky" type character. When underachiever Tyler isn't displaying his superlative street dancing moves, he hangs out with two African-American friends—Mac Carter (Damaine Radcliff of "Glory Road") and Mac's impetuous little brother Skinny (newcomer De'Shawn Washington)—and they steal cars for local chop-shop gangster Omar (Hip-Hop Musician Heavy D of "Dallas 362") who loves to throw parties.

Tyler and Nora hail from completely different backgrounds. She lives in the lap of luxury with her single mom, and Tyler lives with a foster family. She attends high school at the Maryland School of the Arts, and he bides time at a local high school. One night after they provide Omar with another hot vehicle, Tyler, Mac, and Skinny are playing around throwing bottles at each other when one of the bottles smashes a window in the MSA building. Inquisitive as they are, this happy-go-luck trio enters the edifice through the broken window and trash an auditorium. In the middle of their vandalism, a security guard appears and manages to tackle Tyler while Mac and Skinny beat it for parts unknown. The judge sentences Tyler to 200 hours of community service that our hero must serve at MSA and MSA director Gordon (Rachel Griffiths of "Ned Kelly") tells him that his vandalism has cost the school one scholarship for a student. Tyler winds up performing custodial duties everyday after he gets out of school. One day he spots pretty Nora in her dance class and she reciprocates his look of interest with one of her own. Currently, Nora is hard at work on a dance routine with the help of her boyfriend Brett Dolan (Josh Henderson of "Broken Bridges") who is providing the music. Her dance number will appear in the showcase at the end of the semester that prospective dance employers will watch, so a lot is riding on her search for music and choreography. Things turn sour for Nora when her dance partner—Colin (newcomer Jamie Scott)—injures his leg. Nora cannot find anybody who can dance with her and hold her up above their head as a part of the dance routine. One day Nora spots Tyler demonstrating some of his gyrating hip movements. Reluctantly, she asks Gordon if she can use Tyler and Gordon gives them her approval. Nora confides in Tyler that she has a great idea for a dance routine but it requires more dancers. When they practice next, Tyler shows up with a dozen dancers from MSA. Apparently, Nora doesn't know her way around MSA all that well and she lacks Tyler's charisma.

At this point, "Step Up" degenerates into the typical boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, but boy-wins-girl back. Tyler starts off as a jerk but over the course of the movie his behavior ameliorates. Naturally, Mac and Skinny don't have a clue about what Tyler has gotten himself into, but what they do know is that he has been shunning them to perform his community service and rehearse with Nora. Along the way, more trouble occurs when Skinny is shot by a gangsta for stealing the gunman's vehicle. The usual funeral occurs and Tyler realizes now where his priorities lay. They go on stage and perform the dance routine with Nora's mom in the audience and Mac watching his boy do his thing. Predictably, Nora's prayers are answered and she realizes her dreams. When the dance employers ask about Tyler, director Gordon chimes in that he is a transfer student.

The dancing is good enough and the characters of Tyler and Nora as star-crossed lovers is easy to handle. The opposites that attract each other has been done a million times, but the convention still packs a punch and the two have chemistry. The things that drag down "Step Up" are the ghetto, inner city stuff with Skinny getting a cap popped in him off-screen. Basically, scenarists Duane Adler of "Save the Last Dance for Me" and "Dexter" scribe Melissa Rosenberg preserve all of the dance and romantic love stories clich├ęs and Fletcher shuffles it all together for a feel-good 103 minute melodrama. Everything, by the way, takes place in Baltimore and the filmmakers shot every frame on location in Baltimore. Despite the familiarity of the material, Fletcher brings a raw energy and enough momentum to make it entertaining enough.

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