Step Up All In begins by breaking down what makes dance so important to people. It’s like a runner’s high, an exhilarating movement of mind, body, and soul. Images of various dance styles cycle on-screen as the audience hears the movie’s leading man describes an art as old as time. But then reality crashes in with the economic hardship of limited prospects and low returns, never-ending auditions, humiliating gigs, and looming threats of injury. Are you ready to step up to the mean streets of the entertainment industry?
Director Trish Sie takes over as we rejoin our Miami crew from Step Up Revolution, the MOB, in an unsuccessful bid for fame in L.A. Pressure breaks the crew, and leader Sean (Ryan Guzman) is left without many friends. Fortunately, fan favorite Moose (Adam Sevani) has moved out West and offers Sean a job at his grandparent’s ballroom studio. A particularly sweet offer of a contract gig in Las Vegas pulls Sean out of his mopey rut into rebuilding a dance crew from Step Ups of Christmas past. Step Up 2 The Streets vets Andie (Briana Evigan) and Jenny Kido (Mari Koda) join Step Up 3D stalwarts the Santiago twins (Martín and Facundo Lombard) for a bid on a reality competition that’s a mix of Randy Jackson’s America’s Best Dance Crew hosted by the drunk “Hunger Games” version of So You Think You Can Dance’s Cat Deeley.
Relationships break up because of tour schedules, and crews split up because there’s not enough opportunities to go around. This entry into the franchise is far from idealistic. Despite its trappings of a luxury Las Vegas getaway, the problems facing the dancers are rather relatable. In the last chapter of the series, b-boys and girls took on the 99% motif and saved small businesses on the Miami waterfront. Two years later, they learn the hard way that idealism doesn’t pay the bills. In the same wave of disillusionment, there’s the crew’s uncovering of reality TV’s scripting, calling into question the shows that staffed a good number of the dancers on-screen. Dancers like tWitch, Cyrus, and Philippe Chbeeb have fans precisely because of their stints on shows like So You Think You Can Dance. Are we calling into question what we see in our own industry, then? Good deeds don’t pay, trust no one on TV, and then get ready to dance-off for a chance at a low-paying career.
In a bizarre way, the Step Up series has grown up with a generation. In its 8-year run, we’ve gone from wayward b-boy meets posh ballet girl in high school, moved our way through college in a new city, followed political activism ever-so subtly modeled after the Occupy Movement, and now document the post-grad pursuit of job hunting and rebuilding relationships after the first big love of our lives have shimmied off stage left. Moose’s grandparents play a much more important role because for once, the grown-ups on the dance floor aren’t antagonists or scowling professionals looking down on the next generation. Instead, their experience is listened to, their advice is sought, and their support is given. It’s as if the series has matured enough to stop rebelling against its parents over dance but found mentors who samba after dinner. Their passions don’t have to die with their twenties.
For all the down beats, this is probably one of the stronger entries under the Step Up banner. Sie brings her choreographic experience from working with OK Go (including their memorable 2006 video “Here We Go Again”) and moves the camera along with the dancers to never miss a beat. Staging the routines with the help of choreographers Christopher Scott and Jamal Sims, Sie has an eye for depth and perhaps uses the 3D gimmick best, choreographically speaking (it’s cheesy, as always). She’s also the first female director of the series since Anne Fletcher started it all with a then-unknown Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan (now Dewan-Tatum).
Despite its off-the-wall strangeness (Steampunk plus hip hop? Just go with it), relatively flat acting, cringe worthy dialogue (now a franchise staple), and very recognizable storyline, Step Up All In plays to its audience with familiar faces and new fantastic dance talent. It’s inventive enough to keep itself fresh and still in the middle of the dance circle fed by reality competitions and series like the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers. Hopefully, they’ll open up to more styles and younger choreographers to show a wider world of dance in the future, but for now, silly carnival ride duets and robot-style pop-and-lock love stories are just fine.