Step Up

Step Up

Step Up is so bad. Really. I’m not saying anything new here, but I want to say it anyway.

The story is trite as hell – a boy from the wrong side of the tracks (and a felon, to boot) gets sentenced to 200 hours of community service when he and his friends break into a school for the arts (by accident!) and then inexplicably decide to trash the place. This kid Tyler (Tatum) starts doing odd jobs around the school, picking up trash and changing lightbulbs, etc. But then he finds out that dancer Nora has lost her partner due to a severely sprained ankle and she needs somebody to practice with for the senior showcase. Her partner isn’t going to be able to be back again until just before the end of the movie – the perfect way to provide some last-minute conflict. Until then, Tyler is going to be the one to show Nora how to loosen up and put some hip-hop steps in her staid old ballet routine.

There’s several different ridiculous plot-lines going on at once. Will Nora’s relationship with Tyler bloom when they’re working together? And how will that affect his relationship with his homies from back in the hood – will their feelings be hurt that he is hanging with a girl instead of with them? Then there’s Nora’s current boyfriend, who causes a stir by ditching his collaboration partner when he finally gets a chance to enter the big leagues and start his own boy band. That’s going to cause some problems, you know. And I just keep thinking back to one particularly enjoyable scene where one of Tyler’s homeboys reminds him of his painful secret: “You never finish anything you start, Tyler!” Ouch. How… true? I guess?

All of this would make the movie lame, but not terrible. What pushes it over the line into bad is our lead, Channing Tatum. I’ve long been an all-too-vocal hater when it comes to Ryan Gosling. My claim is that Gosling does not know how to react to other actors around him, which makes him seem not to register any emotion at all. Channing Tatum, bless him, makes Gosling look like a master thespian. I wish I could sit you down and show you some scenes from the film just to give you an idea of just how TERRIBLE this man is as an actor. My assumption is that he was chozen bazed on hiz skillz as a street dancer, rather than his ability to convincingly play a down-and-out kid from a broken home who has commitment issues. There’s one scene (I can’t remember the exact situation, unfortunately) where he is expected to express some sort of anger and surprise, but his inflection barely changes. Or here’s something more concrete: in one scene, Tyler watches his new gal pal Nora teaching ballet to a group of young girls. One of the girls scrunches up her face at Tyler and gives him a nasty look (but it’s all in good fun!). He tries to respond in kind, but his face hardly moves at all. He is incapable of changing his expression. It’s amazing.

As per the prescribed plot beats, the movie is working toward a climactic final dance scene, and yes, there will be scouts for the big leagues watching in the audience. But will the above mentioned last-second conflict screw it up for everybody? Is there really an doubt?

Step Up is pretty terrible. But it’s just almost so-bad-it’s-good terrible, because I couldn’t stop marveling at how clueless Tatum was as an actor when I wasn’t in disbelief at how unrealistic and cliched the plot actually was. There is always somebody ready to rush into a scene to break up an almost-kiss, and sometimes characters stand in the background (where they ought to be seen, since there are mirrors all around) and only enter the conversation when it feels more appropriate. It’s weird and dumb and one of the characters dies. Now are you going to watch it?

This review was written 05/31/2010.

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