25 feb. 2015

Step Up (7/10): Tatum's charisma carries the film and lets us forgive its many flaws

“I'm fighting, for something that's real for the first time in my life!”

When Anne Fletcher made her directorial debut way back in 2006 no one imagined that this small budget film with a relatively unknown cast would end up grossing over 100 million in the US and inspiring a franchise that currently stands at five movies. It wasn’t received warmly by the critics due to its cliche storyline and corny dialogues, but audiences dug it. I never was interested in the franchise and this was my first time actually sitting down and watching one. The main reason was because I knew this was Channing Tatum’s break out role. He had done a couple of movies before with smaller roles, but this was the first time he was given a lead role. Tatum has delivered some strong roles recently (Foxcatcher being his most impressive) so I wanted to go back and revisit some of his earlier work. I was surprised I actually ended up enjoying this film as much as I did and I think it is largely due to Tatum’s charisma. He didn’t deliver a great performance, but he definitely carried the film with his charm making it enjoyable. The dancing was also pretty solid although I am not much of an expert in that area. The main problems with Step Up revolve around the cliched screenplay and dull subplots that almost derailed the film completely, but the charisma from Tatum and his excellent chemistry with Jenna Dewan make this an entertaining viewing experience. It’s been 9 years since Tatum and Dewan met on set for this movie and they are still together in real life. The chemistry was really there. 

Step Up is one of those films that you know is formulaic, unoriginal, and without any great technical achievements, but you still find it enjoyable due to the charismatic lead performances. You could file Step Up under the romance/dance genre along with other films as Bring it On, Save the Last Dance, and Honey. The screenplays are perhaps the weakest thing about these films, but you still can find them enjoyable when the lead characters deliver charismatic performances and know how to dance. That is the case with Channing Tatum who plays a troubled young teen who lives with his foster parents and spends a lot of time in the streets. One night out with his friends he ends up vandalizing an arts school and gets caught. He is ordered to do 200 hours of community service as payment for the damages he caused. At the school he meets a young student from a wealthy family played by Jenna Dewan who dreams of becoming a dancer. When her dancing partner gets injured, he offers to help, and the plot evolves from there.

The story works best when it focuses on the two lead characters rehearsing and dancing together, but when the film shifts its focus on other subplots revolving around their friends the story losses some of its appeal. There is unnecessary conflict introduced in the film that is resolved rather easily and in a predictable way. There is also a tragic scene that takes place near the end of the film that felt out of place (the melodrama is poorly handled by the screenwriters). However, the final dance scene is one of the best in the movie so it does end in a positive note. Despite its predictable storyline and formulaic premise, Step Up is still an enjoyable film. Not good enough however to get me interested in the sequels.

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