Movies like this are like a bug that lands on the ceiling... you think "Okay, I'll just ignore it. I'll just put it out of my mind. I don't even see it there." And then you have to get up and chase it around the room. I had found Step Up II the Streets to be delightfully idiotic, and this one proved to be more of the same, but in 3D! And I have to say the idea of dancing in 3D sounded more fun that more comupter-generated bullshit.
The movie opens with a bunch of videotaped snippets of the minor characters in the film to come talking about how only when they're dancing do they feel so free, at night they lock the door and no one else can see, and they feel most themselves, and that dance "saved" them because their parents kicked them out, or the gangs, or being trafficked from the Ukraine, or whatever. We then take up with Moose, a straggler from the last movie [and maybe the first one?] who looks like a Muppet based on late-career Michael Jackson and is really the LAST person you would imagine to be the one consistent character of a series of films. He and his BFF Camille are starting at NYU, Moose to study engineering. He has agreed with his parents to give up dance and study. Once his parents are gone, Moose is distracted by some high-end sneakers that he identifies by name [soon movie moments like this will flash a code you can text for a coupon] and wander over to an... impromptu dance routine! These are the Samurai, and thorough a moronic series of events, Moose is drawn into a dance challenge, in which the Samurai leader is bested, although few in the audience will be able to discern how one set of twitchy gestures and confrontive gymnastics is supposedly superior to another. During this time you will learn that local vendors do not mind in the slightest when you jump up on their table, destroying all of their carefully-arranged merchandise. But--the police! Yes, the cops come running to apprehend public-menace Moose, when he is abruptly saved by smoldering unshaven babe Luke, who has been documenting Moose's moves with his ever-present video camera. He takes Moose to his enormous warehouse loft in Brooklyn, entitled The Vault, which houses a ragtag band of dancers and their practice quarters upstairs, with a full nightclub [that none of them ever have to work at] downstairs, that sustains the place. Believe me, we will get into the economics of this system later.
Moose--who was supposed to give up dance!--is soon recruited to join the group, and help them to victory in the big dance-off, which will get them enough money to pay the six months back payments owed on the loft. Then they pile into Luke's vintage car and cruise through Times Square, as we are forced to hear that Alicia Keys "New York" song. Let me merely mention that if I ever hear this song again I will self-lobotomize, and let me also point out that it employs the same strategy the Village People used to put to lucrative use: Name a song after a city for an instant, recurring hit. It's also an idiotic cliche to show characters cruising through Times Square to show that they are "Kings of New York," since an actual New Yorker tries to avoid Times Square as assiduously as possible, since it is nothing but tourists.
So now comes the very stupidest thing in this movie, and, I believe, a serious contender for the stupidest thing ever created by mankind. Moose goes downstairs to the bathroom in the club, in which swank glowing walls inexplicably lead to this grubby, graffiti-covered bathroom that looks like it belongs in a bus station. There he is trying to pee when this guy comes in, tells him that no one gets away from the Samurai [rival dance crew, remember?] that easily, then uses his watch to activate these giant speakers BUILT INTO HIS JACKET, which start blowing out music. Then other dancers come in and start dancing menacingly and flipping all over the room. Moose is clearly facing a SAMURAI DANCE ASSAULT. But what are they going to do, kill him with poses? Dance in his face until he concedes defeat? I mean, I guess it’s great that they’ve found a non-violent solution, but… how do they know when anyone has WON? I’m not sure they do, which may be why the movie just abruptly cuts to another scene without any resolution.
Next up, Luke is transfixed with capturing on video the hot moves of this young woman Natalie, who, it would initially appear, can turn invisible and, in fact, teleport. It doesn’t take long before he invites her to live with them, on the understanding that she will compete with them at the World Jam. In the morning they have to go train, which means they run around from rooftop to rooftop, swinging off and around pipes and jumping from signs and such. It comes off as much stupider than it sounds. Somehow, using this method, they are able to cross the East River and end up on a rooftop outside one of Moose’s engineering classes, which they lure him out of in order to return to the Vault for practice.
Now, the Vault. They have apparently missed five out of their last six mortgage payments, simply because they don’t have the money. Luke at one point says the nightclub isn’t pulling in enough money. Interesting, because when we see the nightclub, it’s packed. And then let’s not lose track of Luke’s vintage car, by the way. And next they reveal a comprehensive collection of at least 100 pair of sneakers, including the limited edition Nikes Moose saw earlier, all of which have their own special display room, with specialized lighting system. So it really seems that their spending priorities are way out of whack, and they could easily make the mortgage payments if they wanted to.
Luke is caught by Natalie working on his documentary, "Born from a Boombox," documenting the lives of the street dancers who live at the Vault and collecting their banalities about how dance makes them feel free, etc. "You're a filmmaker!" Natalie says in wonderment, despite the fact that there are already several documentaries exactly like Luke's, and no one needs another. Tragically, however, Luke suffers from low self-esteem, and needs encouragement to show his work to others. He takes Natalie out to his special New York places, which involves standing atop an upblowing vent and--SO not kidding here--making colorful shapes in the air with their slurpees. Luke confides that he draws inspiration from the city: "The river, the traffic... make me feel like I'm part of something bigger." Woah man, let's not get too deep! Luke, or someone in his documentary, forget which, also says that "One dance move can change a generation." No supporting evidence is offered for this statement.
Meanwhile we've been having various dance sequences, perhaps displaying the state of the art of Krumping [the aggressive hip-hop dance challenges portrayed here], but the untrained eye wouldn't know, because they all look pretty much the same, and there seems to be little more than athletic skill involved. What's more, I personally was unaware that "the robot" still enjoyed such a dominant place in hip-hop dancing, as that seems to make up 60% of what we're seeing here. This movie continues in the vein of most popular hip-hop dance movies in that, despite covering a largely African-American subculture, focuses on white characters and pushes black characters to the periphery. I'm sure there are economic reasons for this [the only similar dance movie with a mostly black cast, How She Move, flopped], but it's curious to me that this phenomenon gets ignored to such a degree. The media and African-American groups will launch into a fury over some celebrities' offhand comment, but here an African-American cultural contribution is being reassigned to whites, and it passes virtually without comment. The world: It's a strange place!
Anyway, Moose has been neglecting Camille, and she has been forced to move on, except when he shows up, says "Well, I'm here now," and she forgives him. Sounds like Luke isn't the only one who needs some self-esteem. Then there are conflicts between engineering tests and dance-offs, which Moose, despite never, ever studying, seems to manage with only minor inconvenience. Our heroes win every semi-final and advance in a straight line toward the World Jam.
But now, time for some CONFLICT! And spoilers, if you are of the type who thinks you might be truly surprised by what twists this film could possibly offer. The Vault cru find that their routine has been posted to the interweb, and while it's impossible for us in the audience to determine how this could possibly matter, as it is utterly unoriginal and indistinguishable from any of the other routines, but we'll just have to take their word for it. Then jaws drop hard as we learn that Natalie is the sister of Julian, leader of the Samurai, and it was she that leaked the footage! But now she has truly fallen for Luke and is, like, SO not down with Julian's plan to sabotage the Vault's chances at the World Jam, and to possess the Vault because of a personal grudge against Luke. But what shall she do if Luke finds out? So she moves out silently to join a convent and repent the wickedness of her ways.
Then Luke needs Moose to go with him to this formal dance, for the sole purpose of causing Moose to miss the Halloween party he promised he would attend with Camille, since he ditches Moose the second he gets there. They are initially denied admission because they are not invited, but then we have the old cliche of there just HAPPENING to be a rack of suits rolling by at that second, and there just HAPPENING to be suits of Luke and Moose's exact size, allowing them to sneak into the dance unnoticed. This dance is the second highlight of pure inanity here, as we witness some sort of semi-formal masked dance-off, making you wonder "What IS this place? Do such gatherings truly exist in Manhattan?" It turns out to be Natalie's birthday party. Luke gets her alone upstairs and presents her with a DVD of his completed film, and she is like, OMG, so proud of him! They start discussing running away together ["We could go anywhere--even California!"], but then evil brother Julian emerges from the shadows and tells Luke that Natalie is his sister! Luke is all betrayed, Natalie flees, and Julian tells Luke that if he purposely throws the World Jam, he can keep the Vault--if not, Julian is going to buy it, just for spite. Soon Natalie breaks with her brother--who apparently controls all of their inheritance--and tells him no matter, she'll just model. Yeah, it's true, breaking into modeling in New York City really is as easy as getting a temp job stocking cans in a bodega.
But bummer moments continue as Luke gets home to find that they have been evicted from the Vault! And the group gives up and abandons him--they should have known not to follow a foolish dream! And Moose finds that Camille has had enough of his excuses! Until the next scene, when he shows up, makes virtually no apology, just smiles and says she means so much to him, and in a jif all is forgiven. It sounds to me like Camille is seriously ego-damaged and codependent, and should seek several years of reparative therapy, lest no-account scum like Moose walk all over her her entire life. Nevertheless, they have a dance sequence during which, at a key moment, Moose STEALS a fedora off a passer-by's head, and never returns it. Those hats are not cheap, either. By the way, we have earlier seen that Luke [and presumably Moose] have also worn their stolen suits home from Natalie's dance. But stealing is all right, because they were like, so in the moment, okay? Geez.
Then it's suddenly time for the World Jam. I'm just going to skip the whole part where they reassemble a team and find new practice space in Coney Island. We have also elided over the time we discover that there is a vast subculture where large groups of middle-aged Asians place bets on hip-hop dance-offs. The World Jam features prominent ads for Sprite and Playstation, both of which receive numerous front-and-center coverage as the competition plays out. Again it's impossible to tell how one side is supposedly better than the other, but our heroes win with the last-second help of Natalie. Then we discover that Natalie has submitted Luke's film to a film academy in California, and of course its searing quality gained him instant admission. Then Moose approaches NYU for a double major in engineering and dance, and away we go.
Here's another cliche of these movies, which is that these kids can do whatever they feel like, without need for any training or schooling or work. So Natalie can just become a model tomorrow if she wants to, no need to build a portfolio or to make contacts or work her way up. Luke will just be accepted to film school on the strength of his [entirely average] documentary on a subject that has been extensively covered elsewhere and adds nothing new to the genre [and without having to take any standardized tests, write any essays, or demonstrate knowledge of his intended field], and most of all, Moose can succeed in engineering without ever studying. This reflects years of American values that hold self-esteem and believing in yourself above anything [such as work or knowledge], and is meant to encourage its audience to aspire to greater things. One must wonder, however, how helpful these messages will be when anyone in the audience discovers that their ability to spin on their head actually will NOT grant them automatic admission to UCLA. One may think "Well, everyone knows it's only a movie, no one believes that," but I recall overhearing a woman on the subway, apparently in her early 30s, saying that if her music career didn't work out, she'd just become a lawyer. Her friend said "Yeah but that takes mad schooling" and she replied "Oh, I'll just take night classes." Then her friend told her that being a lawyer starting in her career would require many long hours on boring cases and the woman replied "Oh no, I'll only take my own cases." So apparently there are at least some out there who believe the peripheral lessons movies and television impart.
Finally, is it fun? Yeah, kind of. I think it's probably more fun to watch with a view to its silliness, but maybe you could sincerely get into it. Somehow. The popular reception on IMDb, from those who are watching it non-critically, seems to be that it sucks except for the dancing, which is off the hook. So there you go: it's off the hook.
There's no reason to, but if you do you'll get what you expected.