"The Next Step" is about a rare creature known as the Heterosexual Male Broadway Dancer. The HMBD is rarely seen in nature, so if you happen to stumble across one, take a picture!
The HMBD in question in this ridiculously padded, poorly acted backstage melodrama is Nick (Rick Negron), a talented dancer, unrepentant womanizer and first-class jerk who still has the moves but whose graying temples are a reminder that you can't dance forever. He wants to dance forever, though, as indicated in this line, which he utters passionately after someone asks him what he wants to do: "I want to dance. Forever." See?
Nick has a longtime physical-therapist girlfriend named Amy (Kristin Moreu), but that doesn't stop him from boinking Heidi (Denise Faye), a fellow dancer in the Broadway show "Speakeasy: The Musical." Amy wants to get married, and she's just received a job offer in Connecticut. Nick wants to keep sleeping around behind Amy's back (Heidi is just one of his lady friends in this film) and stay in New York. And thus a conflict is born.
With "Speakeasy" about to close, Nick goes out in search of another show. Minor back pain hobbles him a bit, and the director of a show called "Gangland" -- think "West Side Story," but without having to pay royalties -- won't cast him in the lead because at 35-ish, he's just too old.
That tiny sliver of a plot -- Nick wants to dance and sleep around; he has to make concessions and realize those things may not be options anymore -- would occupy maybe 60 minutes of screen time in a normal film. But "The Next Step," written by Aaron Reed and directed by Christian Faber, is not a normal film. It's a Dance Movie! That means it has dancing, lots and lots of dancing, dancing every few minutes, dancing in every scene. Just when the story's starting to go somewhere, pow! There's another dance scene to slow it down again.
The dancing is quite good, I'll give it that, and there is probably an audience that will enjoy it just for that reason. (That audience: dancers.) And as actors, the leads ... are all really good dancers. The lines are bad enough, and the actors' self-serious, overblown delivery of them is often laugh-out-loud funny. You hate to mock something as earnest as this, but what can you do?
It's not a total bare-bones release -- there are a couple extras -- but the bones are nearly bare. There are no alternate language tracks, nor any subtitles. Still, it's better than the 2000 DVD release, which had nothing. That's how they can call this one the "Special Edition."
VIDEO: The print used for the DVD transfer wasn't in pristine condition (a few scratches and blemishes), but considering the movie hasn't seen the light of day in nine years, it's pretty good.
However, the film's colors are very dark. Whether this is due to the way it was shot or the way it was transferred to DVD, I can't tell, but it's bad: Black clothes blend with shadows behind them, a dark red couch disappears into the semi-darkness in the room -- basically anything darker than a deep purple becomes black and indistinguishable from its surroundings.
AUDIO: It's basic stereo. Some of the dialogue wasn't recorded very well to begin with, which the DVD can't do much about. But in other cases, the dialogue was recorded just fine, but is lost behind the "background" music in the DVD's sound mix.
EXTRAS: The main extra is a commentary by director Christian Faber, screenwriter Aaron Reed, and producer Taylor Nichols (who also plays a role in the film). They're watching the film for the first time in nearly 10 years, and a lot of their observations have to do with whatever became of this person, and where that actor wound up, and so forth. The rest is the usual indie-film stories about who they borrowed the sets from and how they had to shoot everything at night because that was the only time they could borrow studio space for the dance scenes. If you enjoy the film, the commentary will provide some interesting background.
The other extra is labeled "Interviews/Behind the Scenes" (15:00), though the "behind the scenes" part is metaphorical. People TALK about the making of the film; there's no backstage footage or outtakes or anything.
About 10 minutes of it is a conversation between director Faber and choreographer Donald Byrd, reminiscing about their 25-year friendship and talking about making the film. Why this conversation was shot in a hotel room in front of an unmade bed, I have no idea.
The rest of it is a similar set-up (on the floor in front of a cabinet this time), between Faber and the film's star Rick Negron. They talk about the film's genesis from their experiences and the experiences of their friends as dancers in New York. Again, probably fairly intriguing stuff for dancers and/or fans of the movie.
This movie was released on VHS, then got a minimal DVD release in 2000, and now this. Apparently someone's buying it. If you're one of those people, well, here's a Special Edition you can upgrade to. For everyone else, there's no reason to sit through the clichés, the clunky acting or the contrived storyline.