Jenna Dewan (Take the Lead, Tamara), whose assets are more readily apparent — the movie was also seemingly yet another wan iteration on the starcrossed-young-lovers-in-dance subgenre (see Save the Last Dance, Honey, et al) that’s annually angled to tease filmgoing dollars from young urban females, particularly over the past half dozen years.
Commercially, though, those films have been hit-and-miss; Save the Last Dance was the most well received, but it had the benefit of an open tundra in January of 2001. The conventional wisdom was that August was a more dangerous and questionable release strategy; the film could potentially get lost amidst late summer holdovers. Turns out, not so much — despite playing at 500 fewer locations, Step Up outpaced World Trade Center, which opened the Wednesday prior to its August 11 bow. Part of the deft, stealth marketing campaign included a MySpace.com contest which let users submit their own dance videos. Those and other features get trotted out on the film’s DVD release.
First, though, the story. Aforementioned wisenheimer Tatum stars as Tyler Gage, a streetwise, crooked-hat-wearing rebel who gets into trouble and must perform community service. Dewan’s Nora, meanwhile, is a classically trained modern dancer who puts in hours honing her act. When their worlds collide, Nora discovers an unlikely yet gifted dancer who could possibly be her partner. As sparks fly both on and off the dance floor, the pair slowly discover that they’re better working together to realize their dreams.
From a qualitative standpoint, Step Up is a misfire. Outside of its choreographed bits, the direction is messy and slipshod, the dialogue far worse. Tatum has a certain raw magnetism, but it’s put to awkward use. Dewan is a naturally trained dancer and entirely serviceable actress, but the scenes of flirtation are stilted, and taste wrong. Still, critics aren’t quite in the typical wheelhouse demographic for this movie, are they? Yes, the lyrics from Pearl Jam’s “Not For You” come to mind…
The film is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen, formatted for 16×9 televisions, and comes with a Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track, plus French and Spanish subtitles. DVD special features include an audio commentary track with the stars and director-choreographer Anne Fletcher, a featurette on the work that went into plotting out the dance steps, a collection of deleted scenes, and a blooper reel. Four music videos also get solid positioning, but the crown jewel, as it were, that will certainly drive DVD sales amongst the same set that made this a box office hit are the MySpace dance video submissions. Dewan, Tatum and Fletcher are shown judging the videos, many of the least of which then pop up in a special montage. The top five entries get full run, allowing for a degree of snatched, to-scale, communal fame somewhere between a homemade, uploaded YouTube submission and getting your name in the local newspaper. C- (Movie) B (Disc)