With more dancing and less Channing Tatum than the original, “Step Up 2 the Streets” offers the illusion of edgier fare than “High School Musical,” but uses much the same formula to separate youngsters from their allowance. In this contempo fairy tale, an orphan girl and her bashful love interest learn self-expression through street dancing. Rather than mixing classical and modern styles the way “Step Up” did, this hip-hop-powered sequel is all about new moves, which should keep the kids coming back after the pic’s initial Valentine’s Day crush.
Tomboy Andie (Briana Evigan) belongs to an elite inner-city dance crew called the 410 whose latest prank–invading a subway car posing as muggers and staging an impromptu dance show for bewildered passengers– gets its members labeled delinquents by the Baltimore media.
Watching reports of the 410’s “public disturbances” on TV that night, Andie’s guardian (Sonja Sohn, pic’s only connection to HBO’s gritty, Baltimore-based “The Wire”) threatens to send the unruly orphan to Texas. As in the first film, the wayward teen lands herself at the Maryland School of the Arts, where her street-dancing style clashes with the institution’s conservative methods.
By this point, it’s clear the strait-laced dance academy is the sequel’s only tie to the original, but fans needn’t take down their Tatum pinups just yet. The hunky “Step Up” star returns long enough to make auds swoon anew, challenging Andie to a dance-off. If she wins, the movie’s over and everybody can go home. But if he wins, she agrees to take MSA seriously and attend classes without question.
And so Tatum reminds us why the first movie was such a runaway sensation, using trampolines to outdance the newbie. But even this display gives only the faintest indication of the incredible dancing in store. “Step Up 2” features nearly as much dancing as it does dialogue, and that’s a good thing, considering the after-school special quality of its obligatory emotional scenes.
Flirtation proves most effective on the dance floor anyway, best exemplified by an otherwise throwaway scene choreographed by Jamal Sims (one of the original’s few alums). The most popular kid in school, Chase Collins (Robert Hoffman), has been trying to win Andie over the entire movie, and at a friend’s backyard barbecue, these two work out their connections through dance.
It’s when things slow down long enough for the characters to start talking that “Step Up 2” gets itself in trouble. Pic culminates not onstage but at an underground dance competition called “the Streets,” where rival crews battle it out for respect. After getting dropped from the 410, Andie allows Chase to convince her they can put their own group together, plucking misfit students from MSA and assembling the fiercest crew Baltimore has ever seen.
In order to make the ultimate showdown appropriately dramatic, the writers turn the 410 into hoodlums who play dirty, which effectively cancels the spirit of civil disobedience and independent expression the pic espoused during its opening scene, trading instead on the very stereotypes it set out to counter.
Director John M. Chu, a recent USC graduate making his feature debut, proves more than capable of handling the high-energy dance sequences, applying a few slick moves of his own behind the camera. Evigan and Hoffman, both dancers-turned-actors, come across as more natural than their more mannered co-stars, and though pic is all about grrl-power, it’s Hoffman who seems poised to break out.
Additional choreographers worked to define the routines, with Nadine “Hi Hat” Ruffin handling the 410 and Dave Scott tackling the MSA group. The soundtrack (which features infectious new tracks from Flo Rida, T-Pain, Missy Elliot, Enrique Iglesias and more) looks likely to extend the movie’s dance craze to the clubs. A MySpace-sponsored contest has been encouraging the group-participation spirit for months, with winners showing their best moves in the film.