Even by the silly standards of the series, “Step Up Revolution” giveth, and it taketh away. There’s too much color and energy and frenzy in this movie to discount it entirely, but it has a disconcerting tendency to undercut its best notions with some singularly awful moves.
Some of these flaws pop up in the script -- never the strong suit of the “Step Up” franchise, of which this is the fourth -- but others have to do with where these movies excel, which is in the presentation of impossibly beautiful young dancers executing eye-popping, elaborately choreographed hip-hop moves set to an endless wall of fat beats.
This time out, we’re in Miami, where the hotel that employs waiter Sean (Ryan Guzman) has just been taken over by real-estate magnate Anderson (Peter Gallagher), whose plans for expansion include tearing down a stretch of riverfront property where Sean and his friends live and where they dance the night away in a funky little Cuban nightclub.
When they’re not slinging ceviche, Sean and his best pal Eddy (Misha Gabriel) organize a group called the Mob, staging complex dance numbers in the middle of Miami in the hopes of becoming YouTube sensations.
When their neighborhood is in danger of demolition at Anderson’s hands, the Mob turns its efforts to public protest, inspired by their newest member, Emily (Kathryn McCormick). Thing is, Emily is Anderson’s daughter, but only her boyfriend Sean knows it.
So yes -- second verse, same as the first.
In the 1940s, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland put on a show to save the orphanage and the old folks’ home, in the 1980s, Boogaloo Shrimp and Shabba-Doo popped and locked to keep the community center from being knocked down, and now the big bad forces of real estate are once again going to be danced into submission.
That’s all well and good, but screenwriter Jenny Mayer throws in two lines of dialogue at the very end that completely upend The Mob’s progressive and populist intentions in a way that all the “Fight the Power” tank tops in the world can’t correct.
Still, we’re here for the dancing, and much of it is truly jaw-dropping, from the opening sequence involving hydraulically-enhanced muscle cars in every color of the rainbow to an art gallery exhibition coming to life to the big finale that throws everything from parkour to Busby Berkley-style spectacle at the wall.
(Explanations for how these blue-collar flash-mobbers can afford all the electronics, automobiles and costumes required for their displays falls in the “relax, it’s a musical” category.)
The players don’t register much as actors -- although Eddy’s obvious resentment over Emily’s intrusion into his relationship with Sean provides a hilarious “Ben Hur”–esque undercurrent of sublimated sexuality -- but they dance like nobody’s business.
Director Scott Speer doesn’t make the usual mistake of contemporary dance movies (the movements aren’t shredded into a fine slaw in the editing room), but he creates a new one of his own: There’s so much speeding up and slowing down of the dancers in post-production that we’re still distracted from their actual dancing.
It’s the sort of gimmickry that’s catchy in a soda commercial, but there’s barely a moment in the movie when people leap or dance or slide without some kind of enhanced trickery.
(The 3D, it’s worth noting, works much better here than in the previous “Step Up” movie, where it felt tacked-on. Here, at least, they seem to have shot with the third dimension in mind. It’s no “Pina,” but it’s a step up, if you will.)
While the movie’s big moments are still breathtaking, you begin to appreciate the smaller pleasures of Sean and Emily doing a provocative Salsa, just because it’s one of the few moments that no one felt like jacking up in the editing suite. In the current movie marketplace, the real revolution will happen when directors will trust the simple and powerful appeal of dancers just dancing.