Dancing shows are at an all-time high in popularity, but SYTYCD is king (don't get me started on that pretender, Dancing with the Stars). I love the variety it showcases, bringing us a wealth of styles, pairing together people with different specialties for a flashy show that entertains the cha-cha out of me. Even if I don't always agree with the results (Travis was so robbed in Season 2!), I'm still awash with amazement, shakin' my booty from the couch as I live vicariously through the contestants. There's a little of that flair in the punctuation-deficient Step Up 2 The Streets (would it kill them to use a colon?), but the sequel has more in common with MTV's America's Best Dance Crew.
I loved the 2006 original, a surprise smash at the box office that quickly put sequel thoughts into the studio's brain (yeah, that's right: I said I loved the original, and I'm not a 15-year-old girl, so just deal with it). The back of Step Up 2's box claims "even more sensational than the smash hit Step Up", to which I issue the enthusiastic challenge: "Bring it!" And while it sure does have energy, in the end The Streets doesn't come close to the original. It stands alongside Grease 2 as a forgettable poser, a musical midget that you'll swear was a direct-to-video release (relax...I'm not saying Step Up was as good as Grease).
More of a retelling than a sequel, Step Up 2 follows pretty much the same plot, with the gender roles switched. After the death of her mother, street dancer Andie (Briana Evigan, who I'd swear was Rashida Jones' little sister) lives with her guardian in a lower-class section of Baltimore. She is part of the area code influenced gang named the 410--a crew that terrorizes the streets with dance, not violence (the opening subway scene is just plain silly). She stays out late and skips school, prompting her guardian to issue an ultimatum: step up or ship out. When she falters, it takes convincing from Tyler Gage (Channing Tatum, reprising his role from the original for a few minutes) to get her focused again.
Tyler challenges her to try out for the Maryland School of the Arts, which reluctantly accepts her. Tight-ass school director Blake Collins (Will Kemp) doesn't think there's any hope for the girl from the wrong side of the tracks, but when younger brother and MSA star student Chase (Robert Hoffman) questions big brother's teaching skills, Andie gets her chance. Modern dancer Chase-- who yearns to break out his hip hop moves--also has the hots for her, and the playful flirting begins as the two try to learn from each other (for SYTYCD addicts, it's like pairing Comfort with the underrated Thayne...who I miss already!).
Andie's shift in priorities doesn't sit so well with the 410, whose members aren't too pleased that she's hanging out with "rich ballet boys." Angry leader Tuck (Black Thomas) cuts her loose shortly before The Streets, an underground competition where the city's best dance crews strut their stuff (like Bring It On, with dancing instead of cheerleading). That's when Chase suggests they form their own troupe, using the school's undiscovered talents to create a true motley crew and enter the competition. Will the new gang be able to master their moves in time? Will they gain acceptance from the school and their rivals? Will Andie be shipped off to Texas?! Will Blake soften up?!! Will Chase and Andie find love?!!! I think you know all the answers. So the real question is, how is the ride as it all plays out?
Step Up 2 is bubble gum, a movie we've seen a million times using various vehicles to tell the same story. It attempts to create an air of street toughness, but it's not fooling anyone: This is a puppy dog, not a python ("This ain't High School Musical! That's what you learn at your 'special' school?!"). The plot is predictable, and the character development is about as shallow as my samba. I laughed at how long it took me to figure out the names of the supporting players--and I still don't think I got them all. They are mostly relegated to meaningless lines of group speak (like saying "Yeah!" in unison). At least Tuck gets a juicy line, the film's most memorable: "Yo! Why's my crib smell like bunions, broccoli and ball sweat?!"
At best, there are maybe five characters who have any identity and meaning in the film, and that's being generous. Everyone else is interchangeable, like the horrid stereotype "funny accent Asian girl" Kido (Mari Koda, in the definition of a thankless role. That silly Kido! She no speaka English very well!). Evigan and Hoffman are cute to watch (if you're into really attractive people with killer smiles), and their scenes together showcase some innocent chemistry. They show some spark--which the rest of the film could use more of. But it's doesn't give us that same super "feel good" vibe that Tatum and Jenna Dewan did in the original.
As for the dancing sequences, I was a little disappointed--and that's more due to the camera and editing than the actual moves. It's great to see all these styles, but the film has a little too many cuts and zooms for my taste. We don't get enough steady long shots that allow us to soak in all the great stuff that they're doing. It all feels a tad over-produced, which I'm guessing isn't what street dancing aims for. I was also surprised at how dark many of the dancing scenes were, drowning the talent in shadows and making it nearly impossible to enjoy the detail in their movements--shouldn't it be slightly brighter and more colorful? Still, the film showcases some fun, unique performances that are worth a look.
But overall it's a little underwhelming, and you get the sense the film is just a vehicle to sell a soundtrack with hit songs. Step Up 2 is probably more enjoyable to a younger crowd, but I don't want to be too down on it. The movie is harmless, and its heart holds a positive message--I just wish we got to see more of the talent, with a more realistic look into their lives.
The film was co-produced by Adam Shankman, the director of Hairspray (is Baltimore now dance central?!) and a guest judge on So You Think You Can Dance. It looks like I'll still have to look to that show for my fix. I don't know about you guys, but I'm pulling for Katee and Joshua. Did you see that Bollywood routine?! Now that's entertainment!
Through Fresh Eyes: The Making of Step Up 2 (12:20) starts as a video diary of Chu, and expands to feature interviews with various cast members, choreographers and producers--as well as Chu's parents, who describe how their son's love with the video camera started at an early age. Actor Black Thomas adds: "It's kinda cool because he's younger than the average director, which is great for us because he's more connected to our generation." Chu notes that he watched a lot of clips on YouTube, hoping to find and incorporate a lot of different dance styles into the film: "There's a lot of dance out there that isn't shown on the big screen." We get brief glimpses at the MSA crew, and it would have been nice to know more about them and see more of their individual styles--both here and in the film. (They aren't given enough time!) One short sequence shows how Chu tried to make some good dancers look bad for a key scene, something actor Robert Hoffman wasn't used to. Chu also notes his memorable inspiration (ewww!) for the final dance in the rain, which Hoffman says added "10 extra pounds on you at all times." There's a lot of passion from the dancers, and from Chu: "Dance is the one language that everybody speaks...we feel music, we feel dance."
That enthusiasm spills over into Outlaws of Hip Hop: Meet the 410 (4:52), which introduces us to some of the dancers that made up the film's street crew. They talk about their love for dance, noting that it provides an escape and a form of expression. Hoffman praises some of the dancers, while choreographer Hi-Hat talks about her challenge to make the crew "be ferocious, but have a character at the same time." There's that same pure joy here, and I wish a little more of that was in the film.
The Robert Hoffman Video Prank (1:57) is an odd addition, with the actor and some co-dancers pulling a stunt at a 7-Eleven. If it's a real prank, it's funny. If it's fake, not so much. Five music videos of songs in the film are included: "Low" by Flo Rida featuring T-Pain, "Ching-a-Ling/Shake Your Pom Pom" by Missy Elliott, "Killa" by Cherish featuring Yung Joc, "Hypnotized" by Plies featuring Akon and "Let it Go" by Brit + Alex. A sixth video, the full version of Ventura's "Is It You?", is also presented (it's different from the deleted scene), but is listed as an outtake.
There are also two Easter Eggs, which Chu hinted at in his closing for the deleted scenes section. From the Bonus Features screen, go to "Main Menu" at the bottom and click to the right to make bowling pins appear. That will take you to a brief clip (2:18) of Chu informing Briana Evigan (in lower quality video) over the phone that she got the lead role. Also, on the second screen of the deleted scenes menu, highlight "8. Jabbawockeez" and click left for more bowling pins. That will take you to another brief clip (1:12, also in lower quality video) of Robert Hoffman watching some of Baltimore's background dancers on set. Rounding out the disc are seven trailers for other releases.