Step Up 4: Miami Heat moves the pop and locking action from the streets to, erm, the palm tree decorated streets of Miami. Actually, most of the film is set inside a plush hotel, which is one of the biggest problems: it plays more like an ad for big hotel chains than actually servicing the story. That brings us to the second problem: the story. The film opens with a dub-step laden dance number and we’re introduced to The Mob: a group of hip youths who stage flash mobs throughout the city. But when a greedy developer (is there any other kind?) sets his sights on destroying their local community, The Mob begin to care about more than the cash prize for YouTube’s viral video contest. Enter the attraction between the developer’s daughter Emily (Kathryn McCormick) – also a dancer – and The Mob’s leader Sean (Ryan Guzman).
If you’re walking into a Step Up movie you must be aware of the formula by now: a girl or guy from the wrong side of the tracks with exceptional dancing talent falls for a girl or guy from the right side of the tracks – also an exceptional dancer – and their complicated romance leads them to unite a group of misfit dancing youths who compete for a cash prize in some renowned street tournament, which all comes to a head in a spectacular finale. It’s a tried and true recipe that has worked for the franchise in the past and, surprisingly, seen the films improve in both quality and dancing as the series progressed.
However, if Miami Heat isn’t the nail in the coffin then colour me surprised. Everything about it screams direct-to-DVD sequel and yet here it is in theatres. There are so many problems with this movie I almost don’t know where to begin. You don’t go to a Step Up movie for the complex morality tales – you go for the dancing. Up until this point the dancing has been so far above anything else offered in cinemas you could overlook the other plot or logic issues. This time, excluding one breathtaking scene in an art gallery, the dancing is rather ‘bleh’. There are a few good moments – two of which come from series regulars Moose (Adam Sevani) and the swag Asian chick (Mari Koda) – but the dancing isn’t something that will stay with you after the credits roll, which has been the case for the other movies. The choreography drowns in more novelty sound effects than a PowerPoint presentation. The flashy set pieces are given precedence over the dance numbers, which I guess is to be expected when the director of photography’s is Crash (a professional name to rival that of McG).
The biggest issue is a combination of story inconsistencies, a laughable screenplay and the terrible acting. In one particularly agonising scene between Emily and Sean where he tells her to shake up her routine she says: “There are rules.” His reply? “Break the rules.” That phrase is cringe-worthy enough the first time, but they repeat it another seven or so occasions throughout the movie. There’s even a montage when Sean introduces the members of The Mob as if it’s a con caper: there’s the parkour specialist, their resident “Mark Zuckerberg”, the DJ, the street artist, and – my personal favourite – the camera guy who used to shoot skateboarding but decided he wanted to do something “next level” (which consists of him putting a camera in a baguette).
The romance, which is central to all Step Up movies, is ridden with gagging moments and more heavy breathing than a Twilight movie. Lets not forget a rip off of the Dirty Dancing wet routine practise. Plus there’s the scene when the two leads are about to kiss on a boat floating down stream and the smoke machine operator has fallen asleep behind the dials. In one shot a huge cloud of mist is about to engulf Emily and Sean yet in the cut back the smoke has disappeared. It’s a consistency error so blatant and laughable it provides the film’s only form of comedy, albeit unintentionally. Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Step Up 4: Miami Heat is the stupidity. “What we do is dangerous!” protests the earnest leading man. Come. On. A guy got shot and died in the first Step Up film, but no, you’re right, The Mob’s ‘protests’ in high class art galleries and the foyers of city councils is dangerous.
After the token dance finale and a bizarre contemporary sunset number, how do things end for our band of righteous dancers in a post- GFC world? They get into advertising. Yes, the youthful group of flash mobbers who were protesting greedy corporations go off to work for one of the world’s largest companies – Nike. As one of the characters puts it: “It’s not okay to make art for fun anymore.” The problem with Step Up 4: Miami Heat is it’s no fun at all.
Maria Lewis - follow Maria on Twitter here: @moviemazz
Directed by: Scott Speer
Written by: Duane Adler (characters), Amanda Brody (screenplay)
Starring: Kathryn McCormick, Ryan Guzman and Cleopatra Coleman
Step Up 4: Miami Heat is released on Thursday 2nd of August 2012 in Australia.