Posted on August 2, 2012
When it comes to street dance films, as a rule of thumb, if you have come to the cinema expecting to be moved by an intricate plot, credible dialogue and emotive acting, you are at the wrong screening. On the other hand, if you hope to be impressed by some thrilling dancing and boldly choreographed set pieces – stay, tuck in to your popcorn, Step Up 4: Miami Heat has something for you.
Flash mobs are having a moment and the latest in the Step Up franchise, directed by Scott Speer, has tapped into this by telling the story of “The Mob”, a Miami-based crew that performs dazzling flash mobs then disappears without a trace.
In a nice move away from the usual street dance battle scenario, the story is one for the YouTube generation: The Mob aspires for theirs to be the first video on the website to get ten million hits, thus winning them $100,000. (“Right now you’re getting your butts kicked by a singing cat.”)
Co-founders of The Mob, childhood buddies Sean (Ryan Guzman) and Eddy (Misha Gabriel), are, by day, waiters at Miami Beach’s Dimont Hotel. (You can tell the hotel is posh by its name. There is more of this “naming for thickies” elsewhere when we meet a baddy company called “Corporate Office”, but I digress.)
At a beach party – gratuitous bikini and pec shots, ahoy – Sean bumps into mysterious contemporary dancer Emily (“So You Think You Can Dance” finalist Kathryn McCormick). Cue a slightly cringey dance-off with sand-throwing and sexy water shots (all the better for those 3D effects, I suppose). But on glimpsing the hotel manager, Emily sprints off into the night – because she happens to be the daughter of the hotel’s owner, ruthless developer Bill Anderson (Peter Gallagher). Uh oh.
Under pressure from her father to forget her dreams of being a dancer and get a “real” job, Emily has reluctantly agreed to go to work for him unless she earns a place in the prestigious Wynwood Dance Company by the end of the summer. But, after witnessing The Mob in action, she is determined to join them and the wrong-side-of-the-tracks hunky Sean. It’s all a bit Dirty Dancing.
Emily is inducted into The Mob, but without letting on she’s the boss’s daughter. When Anderson announces plans to raze The Mob’s neighbourhood to build a huge commercial development, the group begins planning their most daring stunt yet in order to save the waterfront.
Will their plan work? Will Emily and Sean get together? Will it all end happily in a jaw-dropping, toe-tapping finale? Well, what do you think? The story is not really the point and, in the main, Step Up 4 plays its cards right by not wasting too much time with silly dialogue or plotting, but instead offering us set piece after set piece of satisfyingly inventive choreography, courtesy of Jamal Sims (Footloose, the Step Up franchise), Christopher Scott, Travis Wall (“So You Think you Can Dance”) and Chuck Maldonado (“Dancing with the Stars” and Stomp the Yard 2: Homecoming).
The film starts as it means to go on with a striking opener taking place in Miami’s traffic-logged Ocean Drive, with the crew dancing on cars and rebounding off them. There’s lots of parkour and, it being Miami, a couple of salsa scenes too.
Other highlights include art “coming alive”, with dancers snaking out of paintings in a gallery, and a stand-out protest piece with The Mob dressed in black suits, like the agents in The Matrix, moving as one down an escalator (pictured left) in a scene that culminates with 3D dollars fluttering down from the ceiling and a leviathan robot with a briefcase that opens and tells Anderson, “We are not 4 sale.”
All-important in street dance films is the finale for which the crew must, in reality television speak, “bring it”. And bring it they do in a dazzling climax, with death-defying parkour, robotic policemen, cameos from previous Step Up stars and a “No one puts Baby in the corner” duet for the lovers.
Then a man – from Corporate Office, I think – comes out of the crowd and offers The Mob a job marketing for Nike. Yay! So it turns out they are for sale after all. Never mind, as the characters are always reminding us, it’s the dancing that counts.
Step Up 4: Miami Heat will open in cinemas across the UK on August 10.
Photographs © 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC