Teen Dance movies have been a staple of Hollywood films for a long time. Even before films were referred to as “teen movies,” stars ranging from Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland to John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John to Kevin Bacon and Lori Singer have been out in films laden with the pop music and dance moves of the era, designed to appeal to the teenage demographic. If the film was able to break through and appeal to the teenager’s parents, that was gravy.
As with all film genres, some teen dance films are better than others. Growing up, I logged plenty of hours at local movie theaters watching the dace movies of the moment–Breakin’ and it’s unfortunate sequel Electric Boogaloo, Footloose, and Dirty Dancing–and with the exception of Dirty Dancing all these films tend to suffer from underdeveloped characters, a cheesy story and a lot of ridiculous banter. However, the dancing is able to rise above it all, and be an exciting experience for the target audience.
Such is the case with Step Up 2: The Streets. When the dancers are on, the film crackles with excitement. Unfortunately, the rest of the film just falls flat. Step Up 2: The Streets is not quite a sequel to Step Up (2006). I say “not quite a sequel” because the director is new, and the cast is different–Though Channing Tatum does return briefly in his role as Tyler Gage to “pass the baton on to the new kids. However, both films take place at the Baltimore “Fame”-like school of the arts. This time, Andie (Briana Evigan) is a troubled Baltimore home schooler who spends every minute she can with the 410, a street-dancing crew whose impromptu performances are designed to surprise and unnerve onlookers.
In the opening we see Andie doing a “prank” video dance on a subway car which combines street- dancing choreography with fagin-style pick pocketing. Unfortunately for Andie, her late mother’s best friend, who now acts as Andie’s guardian, witnesses this and is baffled about what to do with her troublesome charge. Then it occurs to her that Andie must attend the Maryland School for the Arts (MSA) or be shipped to her Aunt in Texas.
I guess it’s easier to get into a select performing arts high school than I thought, because in the blink of an eye, Andie is a student there. Andie’s freestyle dance moves raise a lot of eyebrows at MSA. Her style particularly infuriates Blake Collins (Will Kemp), the school’s traditionalist director. However, Blake’s younger brother Chase (Robert Hoffman), a fellow student at MSA, loves her style.
Andie is immediately drawn to the cocky Chase, MSA’s best student. He’s gorgeous, popular and his specialty is modern dance. But what he longs to do to do is what Andie is doing: dance in the streets. For a time, Andie finds herself caught between two different worlds: the rigid academics of MSA and rehearsals with The 410 run by a taskmaster named Tuck (Black Thomas). Eventually she is kicked out of the street crew for having “turned her back” on them. (Apparently, going to a good school and attempting to make something of yourself, is heavily discouraged.)
The acting is pretty stiff and the structure of the film is such that you can leave for ten minutes and not miss a thing. The minute Andie is kicked out of The 410; it’s inevitable that she start her own dance crew with classmates from MSA. There are the predictable jealousies, fights, and reconciliations, and while none of this is notable, the dance sequences shine.
First-time feature director Jon Chu and choreographer Hi-Hat have created some pretty cool dancing sequences, culminating in a rain-soaked finale that sizzles with teen-friendly sexual energy. While most of the performers have little acting talent, there’s no denying their incredible dancing abilities.
Eight deleted scenes include dances by Jabbawockeez and West Coast Riders. There are also five music videos: “Low” (Flo Rida, feat. T-Pain), “Ching-a-Ling”/”Shake Your Pom Pom” (Missy Elliott), “Killa” (Cherish, feat. Yung Joc), “Hypnotized,” feat. Akon, and “Let It Go” (Brit & Alex). There’s also a short bonus feature on “Outlaws of Hip Hop” that introduces you to the 4-1-0 dancers individually. “Through Fresh Eyes: The Making of Step Up 2” is a pretty standard “making of” featurette. The disc also includes a slow-ballad performance of “Is It You?” Lastly, there’s the “Lead Actor Robert Hoffman Video Prank”
In the final analysis, teenagers will probably love Step Up 2: The Streets, while individuals outside of that age range, would probably prefer Fame.