A Review of Step Up Revolution, directed by Scott Speer (2012)
By REBECCA, July 30, 2012
Sean and Eddy (Ryan Guzman and Misha Gabriel) are the leaders of The Mob, a flash mob dance crew in Miami, and work in a luxury hotel by day. When the property developer of the hotel where they work threatens to buy the land where they and their friends and families live, they use dance as a weapon to fight back. Along the way, Sean meets Emily (Kathryn McKormick), an aspiring dancer and (you guessed it) the daughter of our evil empire-builder, who joins forces with them.
Oh, Step Up franchise, I haven’t cared about any of your characters since Channing Tatum in 2006, but damn do I like your style. The short story is this: Step Up Revolution‘s dancing and effects are pretty awesome; the rest is total garbage, but that’s cool because it’s the dancing that we care about, right?
Well, actually, not quite. When I first saw the preview for Step Up Revolution, I held out a smidgen of hope that there might be something truly . . . revolutionary about a crew of performers taking advantage of our technology-obsessed culture to reach an audience so large that their art could change people’s lives for the better.
Did I hope in vain? Not entirely. In fact, the movie opens with a truly gorgeous instance of flash mobbery that models the amazing ease with which workaday public spaces can be transformed into theaters of expression with even the most basic recon into how these spaces function. It is a breathtaking show of the power that a group of individuals can have over their environment when they work together toward a common goal, and I actually found myself tearing up a little at the notion of groups of teenagers watching this movie and being inspired to use its tactics in their own communities. It’s a truly inspiring scene.
This early promise, however, and with it much of my joy in The Mob’s tactics, stagnates into such a lockbox of capitalist Hollywood formula that even the dancing feels like it’s been calibrated to dazzle but not to surprise. While there are beautiful scenes of dance magic and trickery (taking over an art gallery and an upscale restaurant), rather than having a message, The Mob stages their flashmobs in the hopes of getting enough hits on their Youtube channel to win a monetary prize. While members of the mob will surely benefit from the money, this (frankly disappointing) goal makes it difficult to really care about their performances as anything more than beautiful dancing. Which is fine, except that:
Although the premise of the film rests on the audience rooting to save the culturally diverse neighborhoods that Bill Anderson’s property development will destroy, The Mob is a multi-ethnic group in which only the two white dudes (Sean and Eddy) have more than a few lines of dialogue (this is painfully exemplified in the tattooed, Latino artist who is literally mute). And, the privileged Emily exoticizes Sean’s neighborhood (“people actually live here!”) and suggests that the reason Sean can “break the rules” is that he has nothing to lose, etc.
It is Emily, though, who, upon learning of her father’s dastardly plans, tells The Mob that art for art’s sake isn’t enough anymore—that it’s time for “protest art” that has a message. When they begin using their art to actually fight for something, The Mob’s dancing becomes far more interesting and they inspire loyalty and gratitude from the folks in the neighborhoods they are trying to save.
Basically, then, it comes down to the standard questions (both about the film itself and the art within it): can art that is made for capitalist gains ever detach itself from those chains? can something that achieves positive change for suspect reasons be detached from those reasons? are politics and selling out mutually exclusive or inextricable? I’m tempted to be a bit generous and say that, rather than simply being a big mess, Step Up Revolution draws attention to the ways in which sometimes it is unlikely people and situations that produce the tools of change. Certainly, any revolutionary ground that The Mob gains in its victory against Anderson is blotted out when The Mob’s success against a capitalist take-over collapses into an offer from Nike to capitalize on it.
Still, Step Up Revolution was, for me, a success (albeit a qualified one) of political affect. That is, while I was watching it, I felt buzzed with the potential that its tactics could have; I felt hopeful that people would be inspired to use those tactics positively. Say what you will about how such feelings of political affect dissipate the moment we step away from the color-saturated, tune-drenched movie theater, I choose to hold out hope that teenagers seeing the movie might still cut through the bad dialogue and predictable plot to the core of The Mob’s stated message: placing art in the public forum forces people to listen to voices to which they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed.
In other news, I was treated to the preview for what will clearly be another filmic gem: Pitch Perfect, starring Anna Kendrick, about a college a cappella group that needs a new image. Number one, the a cappella group is called The Bellas and I can’t help but suspect a subtle Twilight reference (the preview for Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 came on right after Pitch Perfect, reinforcing this connection in my brain). Number two, the fact that Anna Kendrick can sing as well as being a genius of awkward comic timing makes me think that she may be poised to take over the world.
So, did you see Step Up Revolution? What did you think?