Step Up doesn’t front: it has better dance moves—and a more valuable, clear-cut sensibility—than any video nominated for a VMA this year, including Madonna’s “Hung Up.” Director Anne Fletcher builds her film around contrast, pitching the story across the precarious gap where black meets white and poor meets rich, assessing the osmosis between each of her opposing tectonic plates with fierce, unpretentious rhythm. The opening montage—a back-and-forth between schooled dancing and street dancing—is the recipe for the ecstatic dance number that closes the film. Fletcher, a choreographer and first-time filmmaker with a sophisticated talent for filling the widescreen frame, is considerate of how the world looks to different people, and in her fusion of divergent dance styles she is making a goodhearted call for camaraderie. This message is best expressed in a poetic sequence between Tyler (Channing Tatum), a poor kid from Baltimore doing community service at the ballet school he vandalized, and Nora (Jenna Dewan), a ballerina who takes him as her partner, where his clothes progressively tighten and hers relax. This montage is emblematic of the meet-halfway ethos Fletcher sweetly pushes throughout the film and the chemistry of the two leads, who make Tyler and Nora’s battle for each other’s trust appear convincing. Always the film is trying to break down walls, like the preconceptions Mac (Damaine Radcliff) has about his buddy Tyler’s new ambitions, but the story is prone to over-simplified caricature and lazy Afterschool Special sermonizing, like the laughable subplot about car thieving that ends unsurprisingly in mawkish disaster. Even before the obvious wake-up call implicit in this violent stunt fully scans, Fletcher drops the storyline like it’s hot. Lucky for us the dancing and visuals of the story aren’t as lazy as the storytelling.
The audio rocks but the image is sketchy, with haloes evident throughout and chroma noise an unfortunate nuisance in spots, especially around Drew Sidora's purple scarf at the beginning of chapter seven.
Big ups to Anne Fletcher for making a film that doesn't suck, but I think I became stupider just listening to her valley-girl musings on the disc's commentary track, which she shares with her assistant choreographer (who is apparently not important enough to be listed on the back of the DVD cover), Channing Tatum, and Jenna Dewan. If it's Tatum you're after, stay away from the MySpace.com dance contest videos. In short, he's seen better days, as evidenced by the deleted scenes, bloopers, and the "Making the Moves" featurette that shoes how the movie's sick moves came together. Rounding the disc are four music videos, a soundtrack promo, and a bunch of previews.
The perfect Christmas present for your best gay or that special girl-gone-wild in your life.