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film review

A scene from “Step Up Revolution”Sam Emerson

Dance gets political in Step Up Revolution, the fourth installation of the popular movie franchise, which delivers plenty of spectacular fancy footwork in what is otherwise a flat-footed fantasy.

Like its Step Up forerunners, Revolution adheres to the classic "boy from one side of the tracks meets girl from the other side" plot but takes a commendable – though not revolutionary – leap by trying to offer something more thoughtful than the overused crew-versus-crew competition scenario as the dance theme. While there are some good ideas in the story, the non-dance scenes overall are weakly executed, ridden with dialogue clichés, absent of spark or tension and featuring mostly lacklustre acting; there is no Channing Tatum (star of the original Step Up) to be discovered here.

And there is only one street-dance crew in this Miami-set movie. A flash mob of hot dancers, parkour artists, an edgy filmmaker, an internet-savvy strategist, a female DJ and a graffiti guy, who have creatively dubbed themselves The Mob, storm public spaces to put on elaborate displays, record them, then put them up on YouTube for fun and, hopefully, profit.

You see, there's this online contest and the first dance crew to reach a million hits for their YouTube video wins $100,000 – which seems to be the approximate budget for The Mob's ambitious acts of performance-art stealth. Somebody in the crew has gotta be out of pocket here, people.

In the boisterous opening scene, set up like the preparation for a heist, The Mob creates gridlock in a busy thoroughfare so they can dance on top of strategically stalled low-riders, which themselves pop up and down in a chorus line of metal. Later, The Mob infiltrates a posh gathering at a modern-art gallery, camouflaging themselves like statues and paintings (à la that Gotye video) and integrating themselves into installations. Onlookers are consistently delighted, flashing their mobile devices to capture images and help the viral spin.

But when The Mob learns a recently arrived hotelier-developer (Peter Gallagher) is seeking city approval to level their favourite Cuban salsa hangout (and the surrounding working-class waterfront neighbourhood) to make room for his latest project, things get political. Power to the people – through dance!

The Mob's conspicuous protest number becomes a mainstream media sensation (cue the montage scene of local news coverage, CNN and talk-show beats), yet The Mob's identity still, unfathomably, remains a total mystery to the general public. And will their provocative political statement change anything? Maybe not, because the mob is about to get angry.

As usual, the romantic couple complicates everything. Our hero Ricky, of Cuban descent, lives with his sister, works as a waiter at a high-class beach hotel but is a key strategist and hoofer with The Mob. After work, on a crowded sandy dancefloor, he makes a few moves with Emily, an aspiring modern dancer recently of Cleveland, whom he has just met in a seriously lame scene at the bar. Emily is the daughter of Ricky's boss – remember the developer dude mentioned earlier? You can see the conflict coming from miles away.

As Ricky and Emily, former MMA fighter and model Ryan Guzman and former So You Think You Can Dance? finalist Kathryn McCormick – both in their first-ever film roles – physically fit the bill. But watching their acting – like everything in Step Up Revolution that is not dancing – is a lot like having too much beach sand between your toes: not painful, just uncomfortable.

Special to The Globe and Mail