Monday, July 28, 2014

Step Up Retrospective: Step Up (2006)

Step Up
Director: Anne Fletcher
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Mario, Rachel Griffiths, Alyson Stoner, Heavy D
Rated: PG-13

Figaro! Figaro! Figaaaro!

The first question you probably are wondering is "Why the hell Step Up, Brandon?"  And that's fair.  This film is about to hit its fifth entry next week.  That's pretty impressive, and when you get that high I can start to get curious.  Plus, there's a fascintation for me in diving into something I have no experience or knowledge in.  Most of the retrospectives I do I have some sort of expertise or familiarity with.  Step Up, I have absolutely zilch aside from seeing the trailers over the years.  This has been a healthy franchise, turning out 1 every 2 years so far.  Now they're attempting to Fast Five this series with their next entry, combining all the franchise all-stars for one big go at it.  And there's also a lot of fun if these movies get sort of crazy, weird or "go for it".  So, why not Step Up?
Step Up is the kinda thing I would turn my nose up without watching.  You see the trailer and "meh, whatever".  And that's mainly because I don't really fall near the target demographic for this movie.  Hip hop, dancing, teen romance and all that just doesn't seem like something I really need to go out of my way to see.  Its the kind of film I (unfairly) judge without seeing.  When a film like this becomes a hit and something I like bombs, I roll my eyes and blame this film like it had anything to do with it (when no, it has NOTHING to do with it).  As film buff "know-it-all" in my 20s I acted like I was better than Step Up without even watching a frame. 
No, this is not a story of me being totally turned around, wow'd, forgiving and now loving Step Up.  But, its not some heinous garbage film that I once labeled it as.  What it is, is comfort food.  We've seen this story done many times, sometimes with dancing more times with some other gimmick subject.  Beat by beat, characters, arcs and details all arrive and resolve just as we expected them to from their outset.  Is that a bad thing?  No.  As a fan of slasher films, I can't knock other genres for having their own blueprint that they follow.  It then becomes about how well they do what they're doing, which is how they will set themselves apart.
I'm not sure what Step Up does that sets it apart.  The film plays each turn very safely, making the choices you expect them to and everything going just as you'd want it to.  For a lot of people, its what they want and makes them happy to take this journey.  I found some amusement in some of the goofiness and some bad lines of dialogue and/or execution in a scene.  Ultimately the film winds up being wildly mediocre.  Its not awful, it just didn't bring anything to be worth my time.  No weirdness, nothing extravagant, just a film stiff in its ways and not budging.  Its surprising that a film with this topic winds up turning out 4 sequels (and coutning?), and that may be the shocker of it all.
I had a hard time believing that this was a 2006 film.  Everything about it felt like it was some lost film from 1997-2001.  The film would have been PERFECT for that time period and may have been an even bigger hit.  It may not have turned out the sequels that it did coming out then, but it at least would have felt right at home.  Its very much in there with those Save The Last Dance type movies that were soaking up the teen romance genre at the time.
Of course this movie's notable thing might be the breakout of star Channing Tatum.  At the time with this movie though, I would have guess it would have been a big breakout for his, now wife, co star Jenna Dewan.  She had been slowly building up a resume that seemed as she was going to take off.  Dewan was in a good cult horror film called Tamara, also stacking up with Take The Lead and The Grudge 2.  But, no it was Tatum that launched from here.  I guess he was making waves with She's The Man earlier, but like we were discussing earlier, that's that type of movie I had no desire to learn anything about.  Here, Tatum is actually pretty good here even if the material isn't providing much for him.  He's better here than he would be in his next few "big" features leading people to groan about it, but he's since improved incredibly as an actor.  I don't know that I can think of another actor that has improved as much as Tatum has in the years since he first became a "name".
Its no surprise that Tatum and Dewan wound up getting married as they do share some really good onscreen chemistry with one another.  To add, both have some really sick dance moves.  Tatum is pretty impressive and knowing him now it just feels really funny watching him in this role and effortlessly pulling off his hip hop dancing.  Dewan is incredibly impressive though.  She has got some MOVES.  There's a "bringing it" intensity to a lot of her dancing.  You really get this great sense of her ability in some of her solo dancing sequences that just have you kind of "wow'ing" at her.  I wasn't as impressed with the big numbers in this film as I was when she would do some solo stuff, especially during the all important "break up montage" bridging the film's 2nd and 3rd acts.
Step Up isn't bad, its not particularly good either, its just mediocre.  But for some, I can see this as satisfying viewing though. And I'm not downtalking or acting high and mighty, its just the stuff they like to see a movie be or motions to take and its just not mine.  I did enjoy some of the dancing in the film, but where I'm looking for is the story and I just was able to know the movie I'm seeing within 10 minutes.  However, there was some good humor in some execution and movie logic things.  I mean, its hilarious Tyler's community service just happens to take place at the school he vandalized.  So, this first one was kind "eh", but it was a harmless romance movie and I'm expecting I'm going to enjoy some of these sequels more as they try more to exploit and take a lot crazier chances. 
Also, if there are any Step Up fans reading these...speak up!  Let me know what I'm not seeing, or why you love these movies or parts & scenes you like within a particular entry.  I wanna hear from you and have you help out this retrospective!

NEXT TIME: I guess we're taking it to the streets.  Bring a jacket in case it rains.

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