I’m guessing more than a few of you are looking at this vault selection crossways. Why would I pick Step Up? Simple, I’m trying to understand the enigma that is Channing Tatum’s acting career. His recent comedy, 21 Jumpstreet, releases on DVD today and another of his films, Magic Mike, opens on a limited number of screens this weekend. He’s blowing up and I decided to turn to his first lead role to appreciate his talents.
After being bounced out of a party, Tyler (Channing Tatum), Mac (Damaine Radcliff), and Skinny (De’Shawn Washington) break into the Maryland School of the Arts and play around in the theater, wrecking the place in the process. When a security guard nabs Mac, Tyler helps him out, but gets caught in the process. His punishment for the damages done is two hundred hours of community service at the school. Tyler graduates from changing light bulbs and mopping floors when Nora (Jenna Dewan) can’t find anyone one else to replace her partner in her Senior piece. Though naturally talented, Tyler’s got a lot to learn about dance, and himself.
Hmmm… where to begin? From a storytelling perspective, Step Up is a hot mess. Tyler’s a good guy, foster kid, high school slacker, and jacks cars when he’s not using his dance skills to mack on girls. Nora is a focused dancer and her boyfriend Brett (Josh Henderson) is a douche (naturally). Her best friend, Lucy (Drew Sidora) is a singer and dancer and dates an older musician, but their other friend, Miles (Mario) the musician, is mad crushin’ on her. Miles and Brett are cutting a demo to make it big and Miles is also composing the music for Nora’s Senior piece. Mac and Skinny hurt the tender feelings of chopshop owner Omar (Heavy D) and need to boost an Escalade to make amends. There are a ton more minor plot points, but you can begin to fathom that the script is little more than a string of cliches used to massively pad the courtship of Tyler and Nora.
If only the story gaps could have been filled with, I don’t know, dancing? Step Up has a good bit of dancing, but when looking for ways to eat up time in a movie about dancing, more dancing is always a safe bet. A safer bet would have been to flesh out any of the numerous subplots listed above, but the story excels at maintaining its superficiality by only glossing over nearly everything, dancing included.
Granted, I didn’t rent Step Up in search of a gripping story. I rented this to comprehend the allure of Channing Tatum. He’s hunky, which I knew beforehand. And even six years ago he was great at his “smolder”; you know, the expression where he slightly furrows the ridge of his brow, droops his eyelids, and just barely puckers his lips. His acting abilities are still on par, but one thing’s for certain, homeboy can dance! Former dancer Jenna Dewan is also captivating. The scenes where he and Jenna Dewan groove are quite impressive. Their shimmy-and-shake lifts Step Up to tolerable, though it needed better camera direction to capture those few enjoyable sequences in greater detail.
Despite its massive flaws, Step Up still managed to be a box office success and has since spawned three sequels. It’s undoubtedly a guilty pleasure for many of its viewers, but I cannot count myself among them. Tatum’s talents are still wasted on me, but I’ll no doubt have plenty more opportunities to come around.