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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Step Up 2: The Streets

I barely remember Step Up. I had to look up my own commentary on it to jog my memory. I mentioned the original to Karen Chapman, the Assistant Manager at the Essex Cinemas, and she said she didn’t think it ever played there, but, sure enough, I mentioned in my review that I’d seen it at the Essex Cinemas. I even predicted a sequel, and now here it comes.

So Step Up 2: The Streets, just in case you were wondering, bears little resemblance to its predecessor. Granted, they both involve the Maryland School for the Arts, but that’s about it. Step Up 2: The Streets is the story of a high school girl, Andie (Briana Evigan; Bottoms Up), who has just about bottomed out. Her mother’s died, Dad’s non-existent, and she’s been kicked out of schools so often there’s no place left to go. Her guardian, her mom’s best friend Sarah (Sonja Sohn; tv’s “The Wire"), has had it. Andie’s worked her last nerve and tells the girl she is shipping her off to an aunt in Texas ASAP. I’m sure audiences in Texas are going to find this a hoot. After all, what is nicer than having your home used as a threat against someone? “If you don’t straighten up, I swear, I’ll make you go live in (fill in the blank with the name of your state, home town, neighborhood).” Now if she really wanted to scare the kid Sarah should have told her she was shipping Andie off to Texas to live with W and Laura. That would’ve scared me into straight “A”s and extra credit work.

Of course Andie isn’t really stupid. Well, okay, she is, because if she wasn’t she would be going to school and doing her homework on her own already, but instead she is spending her days hanging out with a bunch of losers break dancing in subways, vacant lots, and kids’ playgrounds. Fun? Yes, but it’s not exactly going to get a person into Harvard, m’kay? Prison, probably, but that’s a whole other movie.

Suddenly, like Frankie Avalon was Frenchie’s Guardian Angel in Grease 30 (!!!) years ago, in blows Channing Tatum, the star of Step Up, playing the same character, Tyler Gage. What his connection is to Andie is as shaky as Michael J. Fox without his meds, but Tyler comes in, convinces Sarah to give Andie one more chance if she enrolls in the Maryland School for the Arts and then disappears. Now whether Andie is all that interested in MSA remains to be seen, but of course she’s going to go because it sure beats Texas, y’all. Oh, and hunk Channing Tatum? Hasta la vista, Baby. Now he’s known for two small parts.

When Andie arrives, The Maryland School for the Arts is in the throes of a administrative and creative overhaul, and she quickly learns that the headmaster is now world famous ballet dancer Blake Collins (Will Kemp; Van Helsing), an alumnus, who has given up his illustrious career on the stage to come back and turn MSA into a world renowned performance center. Just as fast, she also catches the eye of the headmaster’s teenage brother Chase, played by 27 year old actor Robert Hoffman (Bag Boy) who, regrettably, looks every year of his twenty seven. He suffers from the dreaded “90210 Syndrome.”

Before you can say “Dancing with the Stars: The Motion Picture” Andie and Chase, the odd couple when it comes to social classes, have found a common bond in their love of hip hop music. You’d better love it too if you are going to sit through Step Up 2: The Streets because it is played LOUD and non-stop through at least 98% of the film’s 98 minute running time. I thought it would kill me before I went in, being the old fart that I am, but after the first fifteen minutes or so, the bleeding in my ears stopped and I found myself actually tapping my toe to the beat. By the end I was really into the rhythm of it all and was kind of bummed out that the music had to end. I was getting down with it, I tell you. If I’d had a couple of joints, I’d have probably tried the break dancing myself and found out exactly why it’s called “break” dancing.

The acting in Step Up 2: The Streets is not particularly moving. I’m not sure I ever believed Briana Evigan for a second when she was supposedly “traumatized” by the thought of leaving her friends in Baltimore for a tragic life in some unnamed dustbowl in Texas. Can life in Texas be that much worse than life in Baltimore? I’m just asking.

Not that acting really matters in
Step Up 2: The Streets because this is a movie about the dance and not the story. The script, by Karen Barna (tv’s “The Mountain”) and Toni Ann Johnson (Mean Jadine), is obviously written around the performance pieces rather than the dances being inserted around the plot. Here, the action builds to a crescendo when Angie and her new “crew” from MSA face-off against her old crew from the streets, which turned their backs on her when she enrolled in school and actually buckled down and studied. Imagine having friends who would expel you because you wanted to get an education? What a bunch of losers.

I’ll bet you can guess already where this is headed. You’ve got a tight-assed headmaster more interested in raising money than his students’ self-esteem, a resentful group of (early 30-something) teenagers mad-as-hell at their former friend for choosing “schools over fools”, a plucky girl-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks trying to show she is something more than just and a plucky girl-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks, and the fact that this IS a musical. Golly, gee. It may be about 70 years since the days of Andy Hardy, but it’s still gosh darn fun... Hey, kids! Let’s put on a show! And so they do.

The best roles belong to the ragtag “crew” Andie pulls together at MSA from the students who are otherwise considered misfits because they don’t quite fit the mold of what the school wants in its productions’ “look.” There’s Felicia (Mari Koda; 50 Cent: The Massacre - Special Edition), the Asian girl who barely speaks or understands English; Hair, (Christopher Scott; My Brother) whose name describes why the administration considers him a “problem”; Missy (Danielle Polanco; Idlewild) the too-tall for the stage ballerina; Smiles (debuting LaJon Dantzler), the dentally-challenged but always grinning fellow who doesn’t make the yearbook photographers happy; Monster (Luis Rosado; Incredible Human Machine) a tap-dancing whiz trapped in a ballet track; and Moose (debuting Adam G. Sevani), the comic genius who gives Andie the support she needs to challenge her former gang and step up in the first place. Moose is the sort of character we all wish we had as a wingman in life. He’s cute, in an awkward sort of way, he’s probably funnier than anyone else you know, and he doesn’t get jealous when you look right past him and set your sights on someone much yummier, like the hot bodied Chase. Moose is the Arnold Horschack for a new generation.

That is the litmus test to whether Step Up 2: The Streets is for you or not. If you smiled knowingly when I mentioned Horschack, then you are way too old to qualify as a member of the of the target audience for Step Up 2: The Streets. This is a Dirty Dancing for the under 20 crowd, especially those who have been lucky enough to forget that Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights ever existed.

Every generation needs its own ‘touchstone’ dance movie. Step Up 2: The Streets may not be Step Up, but it’s still pretty cool on its own. Oh, and if you don’t know Horschack, go, enjoy Step Up 2: The Streets. It’s just for you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

ok um monster isnt a tap dancing whiz that's hair, monster is a b boy who's used as a stunt double for the school plays etc.