Step Up Revolution is almost laughably beholden to the formula laid out by the previous entries in the franchise. A hot, street-dancing poor boy, played again by an Abercrombie & Fitch model, brings a sweet young thang into his posse, but will her classical dance training taint their street cred, and will they survive the obligatory Three’s Company-style misunderstandings that ensue once everyone learns of her association to the Whitey Corp. that threatens their stomping ground?
After introducing us to the world wonder of Channing Tatum’s pelvic thrust, the series took it to the streets, then wondrously blew itself up in three dimensions. Something of a greatest-hits combo, Step Up Revolution mixes class-consciousness with streetwiseness, giddily busting a move in 3D, but the revolution it televises between a group of Miami flash mobbers and a gentrifying hotel conglomerate pays only lip service to the culture that would be lost if a development project were allowed to replace an ostensibly impoverished strip of waterfront property where “people actually live.”
The Brady Bunch-grade narrative follows the attempts of the chummy Mob to ingratiate themselves into the public’s consciousness with a YouTube video they hope will snag an excess of 10 million viewers. They cause scenes with surprise flash mobs on city streets and inside art galleries and restaurants, subverting the pretense of Miami’s luxe spaces, but it’s not until they decide to get their Kony 2012 on, elevating performance art to protest art by crashing a project-determining meeting at a downtown Castle Greyskull, that their manifesto catches fire.
The film, through its spectacular dance sequences, advocates an ethos of polite remonstration. Though the flash mobbers thumb their nose at refinement, their true enemy is the mundane, the stuffiness of the art-gallery space and the grayness of the high-end dining experience. Building off of the objects that exist within these spaces, they put a “spin on fine art,” repurposing it so as to shock the complacent connoisseur. And this spirited purpose finds almost poignant expression in the crew’s efforts to open the eyes of Bill Anderson (Gallagher), not only to the culture that his hotel project will destroy, but to his daughter’s passion for dance.
But Step Up Revolution never relishes the unique cultural essence that Anderson threatens to snuff out. Lucha, a reference to the rift between the best buds played by Ryan Guzman and Misha Gabriel, is one of few Spanish words spoken in the film. Cuban flags are unseen, maduros uneaten, mojitos unsipped, though Guzman’s Sean and Kathryn McCormick’s Emily do the salsa at one point. The film audaciously asks us to cheer a dance revolution that can’t be bothered to channel the iconography and spirit of the immigrant struggle that brought almost one million Cubans to the very place the flash mobbers pretend to stand up for. They may bust fierce moves, but there’s no joy in watching the perseverance of something so whitewashed.