Rated PG-13, 98 min. Directed by Anne Fletcher. Starring Channing Tatum, Jenna Dewan, Rachel Griffiths, Mario, Drew Sidora, Heavy D, Damaine Radcliff, De’Shawn Washington.
A note to future generations: When relieved of an interracial element, the snooty-dancer-meets-street-dancer musical romance (think: Save the Last Dance) loses much of its resonance. I’m writing this down because we’re all probably going to forget about Step Up pretty soon. I can be generous with a movie that dares bring together Griffiths (strip-mined for her credibility as an imperious art-school principal with plunging sweaters) and Heavy D (as the owner of a Baltimore chop shop), and I will agree that leading dude Tatum (formerly of the Abercrombie & Fitch catalog) dances his white-boy ass off. But the movie is so awkward, so painfully intent on teaching its characters life lessons every few minutes, that it forgets to be trashy, and art-school movies about prissy rich girls in love with underwear-model bad boys serving community probation as school janitors should be a little trashy. But this isn’t quite Fame, even though there’s a big recital at the end, and one student’s use of synthesizers is likened to masturbation. No, this is the kind of art-school movie where the characters continually remind one another, “We’ve only got one chance to show them who we are!” and then rehearse in montage. A particularly innocent secondary character will possibly take one for the team in order to frighten the others away from boosting Escalades, and kid actor Alyson Stoner lightens the mood periodically as Tatum’s foster sister; he’s always tousling her hair. Its inspirational messages about teenage self-improvement are as subtle and nuanced as Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9’s collision with Jupiter in 1994. This could be a pilot for the WB. Hollywood choreographer Fletcher makes the jump behind the camera but displays a greater aplomb for staging than drama, and the movie is as fleeting as the last weekend of summer.
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