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Review: Step Up All In

Perhaps the title of Step Up: All In is a pun, as this latest installment of the Step Up franchise, (the fifth!), appears to want to come off as an all-star version. Instead, the film feels slightly recycled, and after a wicked opening, (and a somewhat satisfying finale), the middle of the film sags. It really did need to step up and go all in, and instead, feels unfinished and hurried.

The leads of this movie are plucked from two previous Step Up films, as both Sean Asa of Step Up Revolution (Ryan Guzman) and Andie West of Step Up 2: The Streets (Briana Evigan) are reintroduced, and do not mesh at all with each other. The film can dance around the issue all that it wants, (and it does), but at the heart of it, Sean and Andie do not possess any sort of chemistry, and are just not very interesting, (Guzman, especially, gives a particularly leaden performance). Perhaps some of the blame can be placed on screenwriter John Swetnam, writer of Step Up: All In, as well as Into the Storm, which debuted the same weekend.

Step Up: All In begins with a montage of dancers struggling to make it in the industry, and doing whatever it takes to succeed, including dressing idiotically. The scene is shot mostly from the perspective from a trio of casting agents that appear only in this scene, and indeed, the entire sequence is amusing and fun, (and previews the 3D advancements to come. However, it does not seem to fit in with the scope of the movie. Sean, who appears in this sequence, unleashes a soliloquy about how making a living as a dancer is difficult, and the hardships and struggles that a dancer must face. The rest of the film goes on to undermine Sean’s hypothesis.

The universe of Step Up seems to exist in dreamlike state, in which people can leave their jobs and families at a moment’s notice, just to compete for some sort of hazy prize that is never fully explained, in a competition that seems made for TV, but could not be shown on any TV station, anywhere. At one point, Moose, a popular recurring character from the franchise says something along the lines of “Why does everything have to end in an elaborate dance routine?” If only the rest of the film followed Moose’s lead and stayed as Meta and self-aware.

But what about the dance sequences? Are they any good? Well, a few of them are pretty spectacular. At the beginning of the film, after Sean and his crew, The Mob, are pretty unhappy with the results of their audition. Saddened, they go to the club, where apparently every worker seems to know them personally, (bouncer, bartender, etc.) Yet there at the same club is Jasper, (Stephen ‘Stev-O’ Jones), the nominal villain of the movie, of whom it is implied got the job because he was willing to sleep with the judges, a trait that carries through the rest of the film, and seems to make little to no sense. Here, Jasper is challenged to a dance battle, which is built around a bottle of beer, and makes the most of a bit of simplicity. Later dances seem to revolve around the idea of mad science, and though the theme works well, the dances could be seen to their logical conclusions. We are normally cool on 3D films, but Step Up seems made for it. Objects that are hurled towards the camera, like a hat and sand, appear to coming right for the audience. At one point, a character almost pops right through the screen.

Ultimately, Swetnam and director Trish Sie, a director of OK Go videos, include far too many silly elements: a character that is almost a direct rip-off of Effie Trinket, a creepy subplot involving inter-crew dating, an extended promotion for both Las Vegas and Caesars Palace, supporting members of the dance team, LMNTRIX, given little to do, the very name LMNTRIX, a complete dismissal of the narrative introduced earlier in the film.

But the audience is all in for the dancing.

[star v=25]