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"Step Up 3D" Review

I went into the preview screening for Step Up 3D - the latest in the needless Step Up series of dance flicks with this review's lede already drafted: "Step up to a new dimension of suckitude." After my experience with its predecessor, Step Up 2 The Streets, and seeing how the 3D cow was being milked to death to the point it was worth avoiding most of these movies, I had less than zero interest in hanging wit da dancin' wiggaz for another go around. However, when the opportunity to catch a free screening came along, well, free's free and...

It was surprisingly....ummmm.....hmmmm. See, good" isn't the best word for it because the story - air quotes - is so predictable that it's hard to believe it took TWO writers (compared to five choreographers) to type it up, but the dance numbers are presented in a manner that if you look at it as a extended dance routine mix video, it's respectable and frequently impressive.

The story is that Moose, the nerdy kid from last movie, is off to college to study engineering and he gets into a dance battle in the park and meets Luke who has a loft full of dancers and they're gonna win $100,000 in a contest otherwise they'll lose the loft and club and there's a girl, but she's got a secret and there will be a betrayal you'll see coming two reels earlier and all is lost and BIG DANCE CONTEST FINALE and they live happily ever after. [jazz hands] Spoiler alert!

Since people watch dance films for the characters and dialog the way people watch porn to learn of the existential angst of pizza delivery boys, let's cut to the chase and talk about the dancing. Due to the constraints of properly presenting 3D in an intelligible fashion (i.e. not like how Clash of the Titans did it), director Jon Chu has to refrain from hyper edits and close-ups and let routines pass before the camera at a distance that allows the effect to not be broken by the edges of the screen. He doesn't turn it into Singing in the Rain by any means - though more on that theme in a moment - but unlike the last film, the calmer style, while still vibrant, works with the intended 3D effect, not against it.

And hoo boy, does the 3D work! I don't know for sure why the effect was so well-presented - I think it worked better here than even in Avatar! - and if my sitting in the back of the theater gave a different perspective, but the lighting and frame composition of the whole movie is stunning. The dance battle numbers are shot with a wide-angle lens that gives an extremely exaggerated sense of depth - the stage feels a football field deep - and the frequent instances of people sticking their heads and hands out at the viewer really sell the effect. This is directly attributable to the film not being slap-dash post-processed into fake, ViewMaster-style, 3D from 2D production footage by greedy studios to score quick sucker bucks (and already starting to backfire in reduced ticket sales), but being shot with the Pace/Cameron Fusion Camera System; the same setup that shot Thundersmurfs of Pandora. I'd occasionally close an eye to see how it looked in 2D and I really missed the depth, something that Toy Story 3D didn't provide as much of.

What really won me over to my surprise was a sweet number about 2/3rds of the way through between Moose and his best friend, a girl he doesn't realize pines for him, set to Fred Astaire's "I Won't Dance" which is presented in one long shot like an old-fashioned musical. They toss in a few hip-hop beats and moves, but for the most part it wouldn't look out of place in one of those classic MGM musicals. Combined with an interesting tango before this, it's nice to see something other than samey booty-popping to the latest Flo Rida tune. It was probably a big risk for them to make the intended audience sit thru, but I liked it.

I'm in a quandary as to how to wrap this up because Step Up 3D is at its empty-headed core a trifle of a movie with adequate-to-laughably-bad acting, by-the-numbers storytelling, and not much reality between the two of them. BUT, the 3D makes a big difference and most of the dance scenes are fun. While I can't recommend the movie as a movie, it really should be seen as a spectacle. Yeah, that's contradictory and unlike the audience last night would require spending money that you don't really want to even in a good economy. Unfortunately, video and dollar show versions won't deliver the experience. It's a conundrum alright.

Score: 6/10. If you like these kinds of movies, see a matinee in 3D; if you don't, skip it because watching it on cable isn't really the same.

You can see the depth of field in the trailer here.


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