Watching "Step Up" for the first time nearly six years after its surprise sleeper success in theaters, what is most compelling is how such a standard, cliché-happy dance movie went on to spawn, to date, three sequels (at the time of this writing, "Step Up: Revolution" is days away). Maybe every generation needs its own love stories set amidst the acts of learning steps and cutting a rug, but this is no "Dirty Dancing," or even "Footloose." Regardless, Channing Tatum (in one of his first lead roles) and Jenna Dewan (his future real-life wife) don't have to fake the obvious chemistry they share as two opposites divided by class but joined together in their passion for dance. He plays Tyler Gage, a wayward Baltimore teen living with foster parents who gets sentenced to 200 hours of community service after breaking into the Maryland School for the Arts and destroying property. She is Nora Clark, a star pupil at the school who sees Tyler scrubbing floors and takes him under her wing as she prepares for her big recital (her former partner is laid up after injuring himself). Together, the two begin to progressively combine Tyler's street moves with Nora's ballet while gradually falling for each other.
Anne Fletcher (2009's "The Proposal
") made her directorial debut with "Step Up," and credit her for capturing the dance sequences with a cohesive editorial style that doesn't feel the need to cut to a different angle every half-second. If she does her due diligence in this regard, screenwriters Duane Adler (2001's "Save the Last Dance
") and Melissa Rosenberg (who would go on to adapt the "Twilight
" series) are responsible for mucking things up with a script that couldn't be more predictable and derivative if it tried. There's Tyler's friend Mac (Damain Radcliff), who feels slighted when his buddy passes up playing basketball with him in lieu of practicing with Nora. There's Mac's impressionable younger brother Skinny (De'Shawn Washington), who begins to steal cars like his sibling, with tragic consequences. There's the tough headmaster of the school, Director Gordon (Rachel Griffiths), who doubts Tyler has it in him to pull through and succeed. And there's Nora's harping mother Katherine (Deirdre Lovejoy), who fears her daughter is heading for disappointment if she doesn't concentrate as much on education as she does dancing. Any guesses on whether she'll come around by the end?
"Step Up" culminates in Nora's big stage performance and the "will-he-or-won't-he?" non-suspense of whether Tyler will show up in time to go out with her. Naturally, more is rekindled by the end than simply Nora's shot at a college scholarship. Inoffensive but old-hat, the film will feel familiar to anyone with a cursory history of this subgenre of cinema. Still, Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan are an attractive pair, and Michael Seresin's (2003's "The Life of David Gale
") on-location shooting in Baltimore supports the story well. Teen audiences could do better by going vintage (you know, with movies from the '70s and '80s), but they could also do a lot worse. Even if the picture breaks no new ground, the verve of the actors and their fancy footwork is half the battle.