The enduringly popular dance film probably should have long ago become the province of documentary, a la Planet B-Boy. But there's something satisfying about melding drama to dance that keeps dance movies coming. Happily, the sequel Step Up 2 the Streets improves a bit on Step Up while showcasing some eye-popping moves and likeable characters.
Taking us back to Baltimore, Step Up 2 the Streets introduces the "410" crew, subway performance artists in masks who dance aggressively and tag subway stations (the news media brands their latest performance "an attack"). Andie (Briana Evigan) is a star within the group, but her guardian Sarah (Sonja Sohn of The Wire) has had enough of Andie's wayward ways. Facing eviction, Andie opens her ears to the advice of Step Up's Tyler Gage (Channing Tatum, in for two scenes). "Let me break it down for you," he says. She should go to the Maryland School for the Arts and get her head screwed on right. If she does, Sarah will let her stay.
Andie grudgingly agrees to give MSA a try. There, the school's world-class prick of a director Blake Collins (renowned dancer Will Kemp) sniffs, "She's just a street dancer." It's a supposed plot necessity of these dance movies to make one's dance style alienating, though surely any dance school worth its salt would acknowledge the importance of street dance, just as a student should acknowledge the importance of learning classical, foundational styles. Anyway, Blake's younger brother, student Chase Collins (Robert Hoffman), takes notice of Andie, and a simmering romance begins to brew. Andie also gets a funny new pal in Robert Alexander III, a.k.a. "Moose" (Adam G. Sevani).
In keeping with the dance snobbery, the 410 kicks out Andie for devoting too much time to her schooling. Chase suggests that he and Andie start their own crew, made up of those who have "a really amazing talent that this school does't know what to do with." Enter a cast of characters introduced in quick boy-band vocabulary ("half hippie, half rhythmic rebel," "the quiet one," etc.) but defined by their unique dance talents. Rocky-style, their first performance is a disaster, met with a DJ's ultimate insult, "This ain't High School Musical!" Can this multicultural crew better themselves in time for annual underground dance showdown "The Streets"? As sure as Andie will follow her dead mom's advice "Just be yourself."
Despite the bogus conflict (which only escalates with ridiculous expulsion threats and a flipflopping Sarah), Step Up 2 the Streets is amiable enough, and depicts its romance and friendships with ease and reasonable realism. It's never entirely clear why Andie's absence from a group makes it immediately fall to pieces--she's a nice girl, but not a potent life force--but director Jon M. Chu stages some memorable set pieces, including the opening subway dance, a YouTube humiliation dubbed "The Prank," and the grand finale that literally takes "The Streets" to the streets (rainy ones, no less).
Certainly, the dancer-actors are enormously talented, which matters most to a film like this one. Performing a sometimes gymnastic hip-hop dance (with a backyard salsa party for variety), the cast makes good on Andie's climactically expressed democratic moral: "It's not what you've got; it's what you make of what you've got."
Step Up 2 The Streets gets a deluxe special edition from Buena Vista Home Entertainment, in mirrored Blu-Ray and DVD editions. On Blu-Ray, the audio-visual transfer is excellent (though not the sort of film that "pops" with three-dimensionality), plus nearly all of the bountiful bonus features are rendered in high definition.
First up is a selection of Deleted Scenes (22:33 with "Play All" option and optional intros by director Jon M. Chu): "Andie Sees Chase at Dragon" (2:26), "Andie Hurts Moose" (1:42), "Moose Ignores Andie" (:45), "Chase Gets Real with Sophie" (1:30), "'Is It You?'" (3:31), "Andie Deals with Moose and Sophie" (4:57), "West Coast Riders" (2:44), and "Jabbawockeez" (4:01). Chu makes a chipper host, talking us through a deleted subplot, and the last two scenes are complete dance performances by top dancers brought together for the film.
"Step Up 2 The Streets Through the Eyes of First-Time Director Jon M. Chu" (12:23) humorously shadows Chu, and includes comments from parents Lawrence and Ruth Chu, producer Adam Shankman, Lajon Dantzler, Harry Shum Jr., Luis Rosado, Mari Koda, Christopher Scott, Telisha Shaw, Danielle Polanco, Briana Evigan, Robert Hoffman, executive producer David Nicksay, Black Thomas, Boogie Bowman, and choreographers Jamal Sims and Dave Scott (also included: a glimpse of Adam Sevani's audition tape).
"Outlaws of Hip Hop: Meet the '410'" (4:54) rounds up Chu, Hoffman, Polanco, Thomas, Alex Welch, Ebone Johnson, Rynan Shawn, James Colter, Jeff Ogle, Alison Faulk, and choreographer Hi-Hat to discuss the dance talent brought to the film. Also included (in standard definition) is a set of Music Videos (22:29 with "Play All" option): "Low" by Flo Rida featuring T-Pain (3:50), "Ching-A-Ling/Shake Your Pom Pom" by Missy Elliott (4:06), "Killa" by Cherish featuring Yung Joc (4:31), "Hypnotized" by Plies featuring Akon (3:12), "Let it Go" by Brit & Alex (3:27), and "Cassie Performs 'Is it You?'" (3:22).
Enterprising fans will also find at least four easter eggs: "Jon Chu Tells Briana She Got the Role" (2:18), "Background Dancers Dance on Set" (1:14), "Adam Kisses Cassie" (1:36), and "Post-Wrap Dancing" (1:38). Trailers include a Miramax trailer, The Nightmare Before Christmas Special Edition, and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.
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