“Some people learn to dance… Others are born to.”
The third of the Step Up franchise is also the third of the series to be randomly selected, leaving only Step Up 2: The Streets, the second and best, still to come. In my review of Step Up 4: Miami Heat, I claimed that the fourth instalment was the weakest in terms of plot – I’d clearly forgotten just how stupid Step Up 3 was. While Miami Heat offers little originality, it at least does generally make sense; Step Up 3, in contrast, is completely incoherent, despite its simplicity. Scenes follow no real sense of logic, narratively speaking, the story weaves and meanders without any obvious sense of direction, and characters that have barely been afforded any screen time suddenly switch sides and become the enemy in scenes that are evidently intended to be shocking and emotional, yet fail absolutely because you’re too distracted trying to work out who they were beforehand. It’s a strange, jumbled mess of a movie, but luckily, on first viewing at least, it’s easy to be distracted by the dancing that, as expected, dominates and impresses.
Step Up 3 does at least acknowledge its predecessor: while Briana Evigan (star of The Streets) is absent, Part 3 follows surprise hit Moose, the small, curly haired kid whose secret love of dance helps kickstart the development of the crew in Part 2, and Camille (Alyson Stoner) who also provides a nod to the franchise’s first film – she’s Channing Tatum’s character’s little sister. Here, it’s established that actually Moose and Camille have been super BFFs their whole lives. The two arrive at NYU, where their friendship is quickly tested after Moose accidentally upsets dance “house” (a crew, basically) the Samuri in an impromptu dance-off, where he is spotted by the leader of another “house”, the Pirates. Naturally the two houses have a long feud, stemming from the former friendship of the two leaders, personality-free eye-candy Luke (Rick Malambri) and evil posh boy Julien (Joe Slaughter), and naturally the two are destined to battle each other at the world’s largest dance jam competition in a few months.
So Moose is the character and heart of the movie, and his friendship (and more?) with Camille seems to be the main crux of the story. Yet it’s not – Luke is also a budding filmmaker and an orphan (?) who has used his entire inheritance to buy a ridiculously cool giant loft apartment for all his friends, each also a misfit and outsider, to live. The problem is that he’s run out of money, and is now relying on the competition prize money to keep them afloat (no one appears to have any kind of job, and the club that they seem to run downstairs apparently makes no money whatsoever, perhaps because none of them can be bothered actually working in it). But that’s not all! Because a random girl, Natalie, who looks the EXACT SAME as Evigan but is an entirely new character, suddenly pops into Luke’s life, seemingly homeless and needing a place to stay. Is it her relationship with Luke that’s the film’s focus? Does she have an ulterior motive? Do we even care?!
I’ve previously said discussing plot is pretty irrelevant in a review of the later Step Up movies: it’s the dancing that matters. That being said, it’s reasonable to expect some semblance of coherence. Putting that aside, what of the dancing? It’s definitely frequent, with most scenes featuring at least a hop or a skip, and draws on a number of then-topical styles – capoiera and parkour in particular. While the competition rounds, punctuated with explosive intertitles that burst onto the screen, are exciting and varied (though there are only two dance-offs before the big finale), the most affective routine is one shared between Moose and Camille – an impressively long single take of them dancing to a remixed “I Won’t Dance” by Fred Astaire through the leafy suburbs of New York. It’s a simple break from the angry fight-dances, and harks back to the glory years of Hollywood musicals in a very pleasant, sweet way.
Initially released as Step Up 3D, this is the first of the series to capitalise on that elusive third dimension, and it does so in traditionally gimmicky ways – it’s clearly a motivating factor in a number of scenes (Luke and Natalie’s slushy-drink escapades, for example) as well as encouraging unconventionally direct interaction between the characters and the audience during the dance routines. Here the characters frequently not only dance to camera, but implicitly break the fourth wall by looking straight at the camera, no doubt hoping to encourage the “engrossing” nature of the 3D, but also adding a certain sense of theatrical, live performance to the film.
By the time the final showdown occurs, there have been so many twists and turns in the plot, it’s difficult to really care about it – it’s not that the stakes are too high, it’s that there seem to be too many of them in the first place. Of course, everything works out in the end – friendships are mended, mortgages secured, love declared and dreams fulfilled (should I have warned of a spoiler there? I doubt the information comes as a surprise). If there is a surprise here, it’s that actually, in retrospect I think Miami Heat is actually marginally better – more entertaining, more logical and, vitally, with better dance sequences. Sorry, Step Up 3.