Back Shelf Beauties
by Willie Waffle

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Step Up

Just step up, walk out of the theater and don’t look back.

Channing Tatum is Tyler Gage – a tough kid from the mean streets of Baltimore (and you know he’s all tough and street because he wears his hat BACKWARDS!  Ooooooooh.).  One night, he and his troublemaking buddies, who also work together to steal cars and sell them to chop shops (what great guys they are), break into the Maryland School of the Arts for no apparent reason and start to destroy the sets for one of the productions.  Of course, security catches Tyler, and the judge (played by WTOP’s Frank Herzog) sentences the delinquent to 200 hours of community service at the school. 

Once at the school, Tyler starts to see the students pursuing their dreams (dreams he secretly harbors, but he doesn’t think he can make it because the world is unfair to him), and focuses most of his attention (and hormones) on talented ballerina, Nora (Jenna Dewan) - who is working on her performance piece for the school’s showcase, which could lead to a career in dancing, or it might be her final curtain call.  Of course, her partner has to back out, and since, at an Arts school with a major dance concentration and plenty of other dancers, she can’t find another good partner, Nora teams up with Tyler.  Before you know it, she gives him a dose of discipline and he injects her with a little bit of the street (which sounds much dirtier and more interesting than it really is).

Will Nora get her big break?  Can Tyler STEP UP and work hard without giving up for the first time in his life?  

I knew I was watching something special when the audience broke out into mock applause.  They do so because director Anne Fletcher and writers Duane Adler and Melissa Rosenberg fill Step Up with every cliché possible from the romance between kids from opposite sides of the tracks to the street thug with a heart of gold who just needs the right inspiration to turn his life around to the moment we have to wonder if all of their dreams are going to die because the odds are against them. 

Adler and Rosenberg write on autopilot with extremely predictable dialogue, but I have seen worse.  Anyway, we know the dialogue is not why anyone is going to see this movie.  Fletcher fills the movie with montage after montage so we can see the kids dance, jump, spin, flail and otherwise move their bodies in odd contortions none of us over the age of 25 should ever try.  I even think someone got served somewhere in there.  Of course, I would have added a few more montages if I had to rely on Tatum and Dewan to carry the movie.         

Tatum is trying way too hard to be tough, but looks like the second coming of Jack Nicholson next to Dewan, whose acting style is stiffer than Chuck Norris’s six pack abs.  She has no real emotion and might as well pout like a 6-year old when things don’t go Nora’s way.  However, her lack of dancing skill is the worst part of her portrayal of a DANCER!  Sadly, she really is a professional dancer, which can excuse the lack of acting skills, but you think she might have worked a little harder on the dance stuff to showcase what is supposed to be her biggest skill. 

Then, you have to shed a tear or two for Rachel Griffiths, who plays the school’s director, only named as Director Gordon, who looks upon this new dance style with amused bewilderment figuring the kids are alright, while secretly thinking about how far she has fallen to go from an Emmy-nominated TV show like Six Feet Under to playing the stodgy adult in a teensploitation film. What, no offers to appear in a horror movie?  She’s too good and too beautiful to be wasted in something like this.  Someone please offer her a Broadway play, STAT!    

In a week when 2 other major films were not shown to critics (Zoom and Pulse), and a month when several more will take the cowardly way out, I feel like I owe Step Up 1 Waffle out of pity because, well, the camera was in focus most of the time, and the film will appeal to someone, probably a bunch of girls 13 – 17 years old and Channing Tatum’s mother.

1 Waffle (Out Of 4)

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