It's a shame that, as a culture, we demand each and every last film at least attempt a cogent storyline (well, except the Transformers franchise), because certain films just weren't built for that sort of thing. I speak of the kind of films where they have dance battles, the sort of movies where the stakes have never been so low. Step Up 3-D shouldn't have to show off a storyline, and so the fact that it flops around so haplessly trying to develop one isn't entirely its fault. It's our fault. As a society. Throw your stones somewhere else!
Moose, played by Adam G. Sevani (from Step Up 2 The Streets), is back and headed to NYU to major in engineering. His dancing days are behind him for a few seconds as the film starts, but then *boom* we're engulfed in a DANCE BATTLE and you know how that's going to go. Two people are going to dance, and it's going to be hard to objectively tell the difference, but the crowd is going to call someone a winner and rep will be gained and lost. Unbeknownst to Moose, his first battle at college is with a member of the vaunted "Samurai" dance crew. These Samurai are a very serious crew indeed, the sort of dance crew your mom warned you to stay out of dance battles with. Moose is then taken in by a rival crew, the "Pirates," who stand for friendship and goodness and light, unlike the Samurai who are all about being jerks on a continual basis. From there you'll pick who you want to win. Choose one.
But wait! There's another Step Up 3-D storyline! It's the traditional one, a couple torn apart by something or other, people who might, just might, find a way to make it work through the power of dance. We will call them Luke (Rick Malambri) and Natalie (Sharni Vinson), as the movie helpfully provides them with these character names. They are both very dancy, though somewhat light on meaningful dialogue.
One aspect of Step Up 3-D that is praise-worthy is the three-dimensional part. This is not your Airbender 3-D treatment, this one is actually worth the extra dollars, with dancers hands flying out at you in a compelling manner. The film takes full advantage of modern techniques, every dance movement gets a sound effect, and there's even some CGI employed. It's hard not to smile at this; it's so over-the-top that it has to be coming from a genuine place. The people involved here clearly love them some dancing, and true expressions of love generally have an easier time selling an audience.
As such, Step Up 3-D is perfect for precisely what it's trying to accomplish. This is a dance movie, first and foremost, and a movie with a "story" least and last. The dancing, the level of innovation, and the enthusiasm exhibited make this an impossible film to hate, regardless of the lack of coherence. You'll laugh at the silly parts, smile at the dancing, and find yourself pleasantly diverted for 101 minutes. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to challenge someone to a DANCE BATTLE! I may lose, but I'll go down dance-fighting.