STEP UP: YEAR OF THE DANCE -- A Distractingly Dubbed Underdog Story with a Few Memorable Dance Sequences
Review by Sean Boelman
Made with an international audience in mind, Step Up: Year of the Dance is a new spin-off of the popular musical dance series set in China. However, in dubbing the film for its American release, a somewhat entertaining (if totally forgettable) flick is turned into an outright laughable one, making this one of the most bizarre cinematic experiences in quite a while.
Like most of the other Step Up movies, this film follows a dance crew as they come together to participate in a competition in the hopes of being crowned the best/coolest dancers on the block (in this case the Middle Kingdom, maybe even the world — it isn’t particularly clear). What follows is an embarrassingly predictable and shallowly inspiring underdog story that makes the safest possible decision every single time.
Clocking in at just under an hour and a half long, the movie feels extremely rushed. For the most part, the film plays like a montage of dance numbers with some dialogue in between to fill the gaps. While this is moderately engaging, particularly if one can admire the craft and skill that goes into choreographing and shooting these sequences, it simply isn’t narratively satisfying.
Perhaps because there is so little focus on the story, this movie’s character development is completely lacking. This is particularly troublesome given that the film is an underdog story, a type of narrative which is almost entirely dependent on the audience caring about the characters. Even the emotional “twist” which pushes the movie into its third act is unearned.
It is quite difficult to evaluate this film’s acting because, for all the talent that the cast has as dancers, all that will be remembered about their performances isn’t actually their fault. Rather, it is the filmmakers that decided to dub the movie rather than present it with subtitles, removing any authenticity and emotion from the dialogue scenes.
That isn’t to say that the dance sequences aren’t good — admittedly, the film is worth watching if only for the quality of the choreography alone — however, these well-done sequences make not a movie alone. Instead, this ends up appearing more like an extended music video than a film with a legitimate narrative. There is still some merit, just not in the area in which it counts.
On a technical level, the movie has an undeniable energy about it, and for the most part, that works very well. The cinematography, particularly during the dance sequences, is aggressively kinetic, but that does give the film some of the momentum that the narrative fails to provide it. As a whole, the movie seems to be trying to do everything within its means to look cool, and it succeeds more often than it fails.
Step Up: Year of the Dance is a truly curious film. Why the distributor chose to dub the film rather than releasing a subtitled version is beyond justification, but the result is an inauthentic and laughable film. It’s a shame — these excellent dance sequences deserve better.
Step Up: Year of the Dance hits VOD on January 21.