Release Date: August 10th, 2012
Director: Scott Speer
Starring: Kathryn McCormick, Ryan Guzman, Peter Gallagher
I have fond memories of seeing Step Up 2: The Streets in the cinema. Not in the ironic, hipster, snarling way which you may be expecting, but because the film was far from terrible and exceeded my (admittedly, extremely low) expectations. In despite of a script crammed full of as many cliches as there were dance routines, the film told its story well enough and even managed to create a couple of memorable, charming characters along the way. Oh, and the dancing was not too bad either.
Step Up 4: Miami Heat does find itself buried under the same rote cliche’s with its cast of caricatures and a pseudo-Shakespearean romance threaded throughout, but it makes a valiant attempt to distinguish itself as a modern and relevant experience — for better, or for worse.
What I did find myself appreciating is that from the opening scene, Miami Heat abandons any pretense that this is a film to be taken seriously. It opens with a flashmob dance sequence taking place on a busy main road in Miami, Florida. This flashmob — despite its dangerous use of lowrider car hydraulics — is not treated with anger or vengeance from nearby pedestrians and undoubtedly frustrated drivers, but instead to cheering, whooping and encouragement from nearly everyone in the scene. The film follows this dance crew, known simply as ‘The MOB’, as they try to attain fame through flashmobbing public areas with the hope of reaching 10 million views on YouTube, thus winning $100,000 in an internet popularity contest which is currently being won by a singing cat. Yes, I’m serious.
It is a ridiculously thin plot which seems to pander to the tween demographic the film aims itself at, but it does allow for some genuinely creative set pieces throughout. There are some truly stunning routines worked throughout the film in some interesting locations, with the art gallery and city council office sequences stealing the show. What is perhaps more fun, is that the film seems to embrace the absurdity of its subject by presenting these flashmobs as cinematic heists, with sequences that bear resemblance to The Italian Job, The Usual Suspects or Oceans Eleven. It is playful, inoffensive and a big part of me was hoping that they would take this thread further than they did.
Unfortunately, the film peaks early. While the dance routines remain impressive throughout, the film takes something of a tonal left turn towards the end of the second act by turning “performance art into protest art”. What ensues is 30 minutes of ham-fisted 99% rally-influenced preaching which is clumsily handled and takes any momentum the film had going for it completely out. The chemistry between leads Emily (Kathryn McCormick) and Sean (Ryan Guzman) works well enough to maintain some interest in the third act, but their predictable romance is not enough to liven up scenes between dance numbers. It is unfortunate to see, as the first half of the film is chock-full of (probably unintentional) laughs, charm and spectacle.
Musically, Miami Heat mixes up the hip hop soundtracks which have characterised the previous films with the egregiously-overused modern sound of dubstep-influenced electronica. I didn’t necessarily mind the soundtrack, it helped distinguish Miami Heat from previous installments and was served well for the most part by the choreography, but I would forgive you if you were sick of the sound of heavy drops and wobble bass at this point.
There is a level of absurdity to be found in Step Up 4: Miami Heat which I found completely endearing. Unfortunately the film dropped that absurdity in favour of unnecessary, clumsily-handled political themes which really made the film suffer. Am I expecting too much from a film that is the fourth in a series and aimed primarily at people a decade younger than me? Probably. But there’s a better movie to be found in Miami Heat, and that movie is a ridiculous, off-the-wall flashmob heist dance epic with a singing cat villain fighting over YouTube fame and riches. Try and tell me you wouldn’t go see that — I dare you.