Step Up (8/10)
by Tony Medley
I was pretty much convinced
this movie was not going to be my cup of tea, a film about teenagers
with a bunch of relative unknowns that looked like it was going to have
a lot of rap music. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to review it. So I went,
ready to bolt.
Alas, I never got the chance.
While it started out dismally, with a rap-talking white guy, Tyler (Channing
Tatum, a name that sounds like it should be a girl, frankly, or two
girls), hanging out with a bunch of black guys, the minute I laid my
eyes on Nora (Jenna Dewan), I knew I wasn’t going to leave until the
film ended. If there’s a more beautiful actress in Hollywood, I haven’t
seen her. Ninety-seven minutes of looking at her gave me a glimpse of
what paradise might be like.
But the best part about her
is that she can act and, apparently, dance. There was nobody in this
movie I didn’t like. Nora’s friends, Miles (Mario, a rocker who I guess
only has one name) and Lucy (Drew Sidora) are attractive and give good
performances. Mario reminds me of a younger Chris Rock without the edge.
Tyler’s two black friends, Mac (Damaine Radcliff) and his little
brother, Skinny (De’Shawn Washington) are relatively realistic, although
Mac is supposed to be a good playground basketball player but when he
tries to take a shot from the free throw line it looks like he’s trying
to throw the shot put. But, then Shaquille O’Neal doesn’t look like a
basketball player when he’s shooting a free throw, either. Even the
minor players, Kathleen (Deirdre Lovejoy), Nora’s mother, and the
Director of Nora’s Arts school, Director Gordon (Rachel Griffiths) give
performances that are right on.
Lots of this is due to
Director Ann Fletcher, a highly sought-after choreographer, making her
directorial debut. Fletcher wouldn’t put up with dancing doubles which
has become de rigueur in Hollywood. There’s no doubling, with
strategic camera angles so we can’t see it’s not really the star out
there doing the gavotte. In “Step Up” everyone does their own dancing,
what there is of it.
That said, Fletcher caused my
biggest disappointment with the film and one that, for me, is a big
negative. Even though she claims she was loaded with competent,
professional dancers, including her stars, Fletcher fell victim to the
“Chicago” (2002) curse and, as a result, had far too many cuts in all
the dances, especially the production number that serves as the finale.
When people can dance there is no reason for cuts. The enjoyment in
watching a dancing movie is seeing the dances themselves, not to show
the artistry of the film editor. The only reason cuts were used in
“Chicago” was that neither of two of the stars, specifically, Richard
Gere and Renée Zellweger, could dance a lick. The “dancing” was all an
illusion. This is done a lot when the talent just isn’t there and is
referred to in the industry as a “paste job.”
annoying multiple quick cuts, she opted for close-ups that kept us from
seeing her dancers’ feet much of the time. One of the more enjoyable
parts of watching good dancers is watching their feet. Fletcher doesn’t
allow this. Instead, she shows so many close-ups that she cuts away from
full body shots including the feet more than half the time. When you
have good dancers, you should turn them loose and let them dance with
long shots that show the entire body. If you can’t see the feet, you’re
not seeing dancing. Not seeing the dancing outside of five second cuts
in this film was vexatious, to say the least.
Fletcher would do herself a
big favor if she followed the lead of legendary cinematographer David
Abel in the way he shot the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies in the
‘30s, which were long takes and full body shots of both of them. About
the only time there was a cut was if the camera ran out of film.
However, even then, in the heyday of the film
musical, the ending of a dance number was shot first, so the star's hair
would be in place.
Maybe, just maybe, the reason
Fletcher used all these quick cuts is that her stars aren’t the
wonderful dancers she claims them to be. Lots of people could do a three
second pirouette, but not many can do a full routine that lasts several
minutes. Neither Dewan nor Tatum does enough uncut dancing to show
talent. Tatum’s “dancing” is limited to a few quasi-gymnastic moves and
gyrating his hips occasionally.
Another thing that mars the
film is a darkness introduced at the end of the movie that seemed
unnecessary and inappropriate to the tone and content of the film.
As to the story, Tyler is
sentenced to performing 200 hours of community service at Nora’s school.
She loses her partner and Tyler fills in, resulting in the usual
problems, what with jealousy and romance rearing their heads. While
predictable, it’s a well-written script (Duane Adler and Melissa
Rosenberg) with an enjoyable score (Aaron Zigman). There is some rap
music, but it’s an eclectic mix and I didn’t hear anything I didn’t
I enjoyed the movie, but
don’t go for the dancing. Did I mention how beautiful Jenna Dewan is?
August 9, 2006