For whatever reason, the Baltimore-set “Dirty Dancing” knock-off “Step Up” broke out in 2006, and every effort has been made to continue the franchise in star Channing Tatum’s absence. 2008’s “Step Up 2 The Streets” and 2010’s “Step Up 3-D” skewed closer to territory already well-mined by the likes of “Stomp the Yard” and “Breakin’,” always uniting two generically attractive dancers from different sides of the tracks just in time for second-act contrivance, betrayal, breathless apologies and big old dance battles.
Now we find ourselves transplanted to Miami for the otherwise identical “Step Up Revolution,” in which a flash mob (known simply as “The Mob”) has been pulling off elaborate dance stunts in public view for the sake of earning a $100,000 prize on YouTube. The stakes are raised once real estate magnate Bill Anderson (Peter Gallagher, phoning it in) comes to South Beach with daughter Emily (Kathryn McCormick) in tow. She’s a classical dancer with an elite company in her sights, despite Daddy’s assurances that her dream is hopeless.
Mob leader Sean (Ryan Guzman) is a waiter in Anderson’s employ who catches Emily's eye, and while they start to swoon for one another, neither realizes that Papa Anderson is set on bulldozing the Mob’s neighborhood for the sake of a few more high-rises. Will Sean give Emily’s dance routine the extra kick that it needs? Will Emily tell her dad that she’s taken up with the Mob out of protest? Will Sean reveal Emily’s true identity to his best friend (Misha Gabriel)? Will the mute graffiti artist on their team ever utter a word? Can they save the salsa club???
It’s all as predictable and corny as it sounds, livened up only by the dance sequences just as a hokey slasher film might boast some juicy kills. “Revolution” finds itself relentlessly beholden to formula, and with the most wooden leads of the series to date -- an MMA fighter and a “So You Think You Can Dance” alum -- the drama between the dancing has never felt more interminable.
The plot, as it were, is only tangentially tied into the earlier films, with series favorite Moose (Adam Sevani) showing up for about as long as Tatum himself did at the start of “SU2.” Local news segments and buzz talk of the Mob’s videos going viral are laughably rabid, and when walking behind a restaurant, surrounded by crab traps, our Cleveland princess earnestly proclaims, “People actually live here!” Even for films that have never been concerned with gritty reality, the corporate-sanctioned anarchy of this entry seems especially naive, with money literally being thrown at the audience in 3-D just as much as sand, sun and sparks are.
The Mob’s grand displays are indeed the highlights, a blend of hip-hop, parkour, acrobatics and performance art, often set to the epileptic stylings of dubstep. New to the series but not to dance, director Scott Speer generally knows better than to get in the way of the choreography, although the somewhat hectic editing of these scenes keeps them from matching the more generous approach of previous helmer Jon M. Chu. A corporate lockstep number stands high above the rest, while other sequences see the Mob presuming to improve on the curated art of Miami’s stuffy museums and striving to earn those all-precious hits online.
Is it all worth sitting through some awfully laughable melodrama and a happy ending that defines hypocrisy? For fans of the franchise, “Step Up Revolution” reliably delivers vaguely sultry romance and no shortage of flashy moves, but for everyone else, it’s pretty much the same old song and dance.