'Step Up Revolution' Review: Political Treatise of the Century
After the solid bludgeoning "The Dark Knight Rises" gave to the class warfare-peddling Occupy movement, conservatives nationwide reveled in a pop culture victory beyond anything they had previously imagined--a summer tentpole film celebrating America, capitalism, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. High on the hog, we became cocky--arrogant, even--unaware of the gathering storm. Hollywood wasn't done with us yet.
Our ecstasy turned to fear when reports arose that a newer, potentially bigger film--"Step Up Revolution," the fourth film in the popular unnaturally-photogenic-rebellious-youths-street-dancing franchise--could be the left's rejoinder to TDKR. Advance reviews claimed the film's protagonists mirrored Occupy with their dance-protest routines against a rich hotel magnate, sending a shiver through the conservative grassroots. Would our victory via Christopher Nolan be so short-lived? Would this sequel be more aptly named in the style of its predecessor, "Step Up 2: The Streets," as "Step Up 4: The 99%"?
Well, intrepid reader, lay your fears to rest, for I have made the journey and paid the $9.50 to view "Step Up Revolution," and I can confidently report this is no OWS screed. But like Catwoman's character arc in "Dark Knight," there are many twists and turns, so we must walk through the entire story (SPOILER AL-oh, as if you care).
In his screen acting debut, Ryan Guzman plays Sean (no surname), a lowly waiter in a Miami hotel restaurant who, with his best friend Eddy (no surname), works all day and parties all night, tryna get by in the big city. But Sean has a secret; he and Eddy run a guerrilla dance troupe called "The Mob." Where they'll show up is anybody's guess: in the middle of a traffic jam? popping out of paintings in an art gallery? dancing on tables in a fancy restaurant? No venue is too risky for these adrenaline junky rug cutters.
But there's a purpose behind these seemingly random flash mobs. "The Mob" is participating in a YouTube contest, wherein the first group of ragtag dancers to reach 10 million views gets a $100,000 prize--which will presumably pay for the industrial warehouse used for their rehearsals and the massive Mac setup Eddy uses for "hacking" purposes while preparing routines.
But, like anything in the competitive world of dance, it's not that simple. The hiring of a new restaurant manager, tightass Trip (no surname), coincides with the arrival of a wealthy Cleveland businessman credited as "Mr. Anderson" and his daughter Emily (surname Anderson), played by "So You Think You Can Dance" alum Kathryn McCormick.
Emily, too, is a dancer, tryna make it into a prestigious dance troupe but struggling from a lack of inspiration. Sean and Emily have a meet cute at a beach party, it's forbidden love at first sight, and in no time this rich Daddy's girl becomes part of "The Mob" and experiences the vibrant culture of Miami's working class--particularly at "The Mob"'s favorite hangout, Ricky's Club Habanero, run by the wise, worldly Ricky (no surname).
Screenwriter Amanda Brody "steps up" the film's dramatic tension with Trip and Mr. Anderson, for these two hard businessmen care little for the hijinx of our protagonists. Upon first meeting Sean, Trip refuses a handshake, snarling, "I'm your boss, not your homie." Soon after, Mr. Anderson fires Eddy for being 20 minutes late. "But I've worked here for over a year!" Eddy protests. It matters not to this ruthless capitalist, who, Ricky later reveals, has bought the entire Miami Strip to develop a ritzy new hotel. Club Habanero will be torn down!
But Emily has an idea. "The Mob" can stop dancing just for the hell of it and, instead, make a statement. "Enough with performance art," she proclaims; "It's time for protest art." And thus "The Mob" speaks up for the community the only way it knows how--dubstep and lightning-fast Robot moves. Dancing to a remix of Radiohead's "Pyramid Song," they interrupt a City Council meeting and, scampering off, leave behind a giant trash sculpture telling the hotel "We Are Not 4 Sale."
The scheme works! The community finds a voice through "The Mob." "The Mob"'s YouTube hits skyrocket ever closer to the 10 million goal. Mr. Anderson, reeling, delays his plans for the land grab. It seems almost too easy...
And, of course, there is but one flaw in the plan. Sean hasn't revealed to anyone that Emily is Mr. Anderson's daughter. When Eddy finds out through an errant video recording, he is heartbroken by Sean's betrayal.
Without Sean's knowledge, he sets up a flash mob to disrupt an event where Mr. Anderson will showcase the planned hotel to investors. Using his hacking skills, Eddy hijacks the meeting's video feed and reveals Emily has flash mobbed against her own father; Mr. Anderson is heartbroken by her betrayal. Then, "The Mob" throws gas canisters into the crowd and, donning gas masks and menacing vests, perform a dance routine that destroys several table decorations and tosses security guards to and fro. Thinking Sean is behind it, Emily is heartbroken by his betrayal.
And this, dear reader, is where "Step Up Revolution" breaks ranks with Occupy Wall Street. This outburst is not portrayed as righteous vengeance against the 1%. Rather, Eddy's jealous outburst lands both him and Sean in jail, and "The Mob" is disqualified from YouTube's contest for breaking the law. Eddy quickly expresses remorse for his mistake: "We turned something positive into something ugly," he says, repudiating once and for all the property destruction practiced by Occupy's Black Bloc.
But despite his mea culpa, Eddy's lapse in judgment has greater consequences for the gang. Emily has practiced a dance routine with Sean all summer for her big audition, and now that she's dumped him, she chokes trying to perform it alone. Mr. Anderson finalizes the deal for his new development, Ricky is evicted, and Sean is about to give up his dreams and go to Manager Training school.
But wait! Eddy apologizes to Sean, and upon fist-bumping back to best friendship, Sean is hit by inspiration for One Last Mob. At the groundbreaking ceremony for Mr. Anderson's new building, "The Mob" shows up in greater numbers than ever before! Performing death-defying stunts in a shipyard, they wow onlookers and a local government figure with even more dubstep and appearances from "Step Up" veterans such as "Moose," "Vladd," and "Jenny Kido." They pull out all the stops--leather jackets graffiti'd with urban-themed slogans such as "Rise" (more "Dark Knight" continuity), metal pipes that emit CGI sparks when scraped across the ground, bungee cords, trampolines, smoke machines, riot shields--you name it.
And while Mr. Anderson is impressed with this youthful display of passion and regional pride, it isn't until DJ Penelope (no surname) switches over to a piano-only song with breathy female vocals and Sean and Emily perform their sensuous routine (thankfully, Emily is wearing gym shorts underneath her dress for this impromptu dance) that the aged tycoon begins to tear up and relents. "I'll find a place to build this where I won't have to tear everyone else down," he tells the crowd, much to Trip's consternation.
And thus "Step Up Revolution" finds its ideological redemption. Rather than demanding redistribution of wealth, the protesters of "The Mob" just want their city and their commerce to be left alone. Their rallying cry isn't "Eat the rich" but "Don't tread on me." They learn that free expression, not violence or intimidation, is the solution. And the film serves as a valuable reminder of how fragile and volatile the freedoms offered by the First Amendment can be; "What we do is dangerous," Sean warns Emily when she first asks to join "The Mob."
And, to top it all off, after that earth-shaking final dance, a marketing executive approaches Sean and asks him if "The Mob" would sign on for an "edgy" new Nike ad campaign. Sean instantly agrees. What else could this development be but a slap in the face to Adbusters, the very point of inception for Occupy Wall Street?
Therefore, "Step Up Revolution" isn't leftist Hollywood's counter to "The Dark Knight Rises." In a sense, it's even more subversive than Nolan's comparatively boilerplate morality tale. It sets up audience expectations--those 1%ers will get their comeuppance!--but then shows how capitalism and materialistic excess can coexist with art and tight communal bonds.
TDKR was just the left jab against Occupy. SUR is the right hook, and now Hollywood has OWS needing CPR.