Step Up 2: The Streets
There is something special about that little film genre that concerns itself with the art form of dance. Often it is included within its sister genre, the musical but in recent years it has started to break away on its own. Seventy years ago people would flock to the theaters to watch Fred Astaire perform some of the most graceful moves ever committed to film. He was a wonder to watch as he danced his away around the set; in one case even up the walls and across the ceiling. Then there was Gene Kelly. He style was more free form than Astaire but every bit as fantastic to behold. He took an umbrella and a rain storm and made it into a historical routine that is as fresh today as it was so many decades ago. In the mid eighties a new trend in the dance flick took hold with the film ‘Breakin’. It introduced Middle America to the high energy forms of street dancing popular with the youth of the day. Now, at least once a year there is a new variation of this ‘Urban’ dance movie trend. The latest in the growing line is ‘Step Up 2: the Streets’. Before you roll your eyes back in your head and think ‘not another flick with kids bouncing around’ there are a few things to consider. This is no different than the films our parents and even grandparents watched. You watch a movie like this for pure entertainment and to see moves the likes of which you could never imagine. This film also has a decent plot. There are real characters and an actual story to watch between dance numbers. It may be prejudice do to age but this film will never hold a candle to the Astaire and Kelly classics but it is something that will entertain the younger set and hold the interest of their parents.
The movie was written by Toni Ann Johnson and Karen Barna. Johnson started out in front of the camera as an actress but more recently has taken to writing with a stab at production and directing. Her previous scripts a few made for television flicks including one on the Crown Heights riots and a TV treatment of the dance movie ‘Save the Last Dance’. Barna is new to the field. This is her first feature length screenplay with a couple of TV episodes under her belt. The foundation of the story here is fairly run of the mill; you know a group of kids have a conflict that can only be resolved with a dance contest. Growing up in Brooklyn I have witnessed a few real conflicts between street ‘groups’ and dance was never considered. I suppose that since ‘West Side Story’ this has been an accepted method and after all dancing shoes are preferred over zip-guns and switchblades. Admittedly the conflicts involved here are highly contrived. What works for the story are the themes of estrangement and peer pressure. This does make it an excellent film for the young adults watching. It shows that they are not alone in these feelings and there are creative ways available to resolve them. There is a little ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in this flick; another standard requirement. Instead of being born to two feuding households we just have to substitute rival dancing troupes. At least in this case the way the story is presented is able to hold your attention. This film also displays another trend; sequel in name only. One character from the original movie makes a little cameo to pass the torch, as it was, but this is a stand alone project, You might say only the dance moves have been changed to protect the innocent.
Director Jon Chu has a couple of interesting little flicks to his name; one a look at stereotypes and the other an ode to motherhood. Both relied on music and rhythm to help tell the story. This did give him a little experience for this type of movie. He does very well in directing the hyper kinetic dance sequences but is still on the learning curve for the dramatic interludes. He seems to have been influenced by the style used in mist soap operas; light close ups to show the reaction of the character to the current emotional moment. The film is highly targeted to the younger audience. The soundtrack is a compendium of fairly current hip-hop hits and they pound out of the speakers giving your sub woofer as much of a workout as any explosion laden action flick. The dance moves are simply put incredible. Now the real star of the movie is the choreographic wonders that are set before your eyes. These talented dancers do things that would make Astaire and Kelly drop their jaws. It is like their rebellion extends to a refusal to obey the laws of gravity. Some of the dances seemed to have had their entire skeletons surgically removed. The lead actress here, Briana Evigan is excellent. She performs her moves extremely well and even has ability in the acting department. Hopefully she can get parts that focus on her acting instead of just her taut, six pack abs.
Andie West (Briana Evigan) is a girl in her late teens who feels adrift in life. A few years ago her mother died of cancer and now she lives with her mother’s best friend. The only thing that holds her together is her love for dancing. She expresses this by performing with a street dance troupe the 410, the area code for the setting, Baltimore. Her foster mom is not happy about the company she is keeping and threatens to to send Andie off to live with her aunt in Texas. Her best friend, Tyler Gage (Channing Tatum) is much like the older brother she never had. He suggests that a better way to express her need to dance is to apply for the Maryland School of the Arts. When Andie gets in to the school the demands of the curriculum makes finding time for the 410s impossible so they tell Andie she is no longer a member. Andie reacts by forming a new crew with her friend from school, Chase Collins (Robert Hoffman). Having a new rival crew in town does not sit well with the 410s. This is made worse when another 410 member and friend of Andie’s, Missy (Danielle Polanco) leaves the 410s and joins the new group. She tells the new group that the only way to get respect on the street is to challenge the 410s by pulling a prank and posting it on the internet. The joke is at the expense of the leader of the 410s, Tuck (Black Thomas). This formalizes the rivalry and before long it is on and a dance showdown is in the works.
The DVD is from the older arm of Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Touchstone Pictures. The mastering is fantastic with a crisp, clear video and booming audio. There are also a lot in the way of extras to keep the fun going after the closing credits have rolled. This is more for the younger members of the audience but it is more then entertaining enough for the older folks.