You know where this one’s going from the first five minutes. Boy from the wrong side of the tracks, Tyler, meets upper-class girl, Nora, while doing court-ordered community service as a janitor at the Baltimore school of arts where she’s studying ballet.
Her dance partner’s sprained ankle puts her on the spot for her critical end-of-term recital -“ but wait, we’ve already seen Tyler’s breakdancing moves at a party in the hood.
Ninety minutes later, hip-hop and ballet are cosily coexisting in choreographic heaven with a climactic musical number that leaves everyone dewy-eyed. Oh, except for that little black kid who took a bullet in the heart for stealing the wrong dude’s big black getaway car.
Yes, social realism intrudes in Step Up, a little more insistently than it did in the similar plotlines of Dirty Dancing (both versions), Footloose, and even in some of the Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney vehicles of the 1940s.
The home situations of Tyler and his mate Mac, along with their urban crime-riddled environment, leave us in no doubt their future looks bleak.
Reassuringly, we in the audience are in good hands with some experienced veterans of this sort of thing. Director Anne Fletcher choreographed Bring It On, cinematographer Michael Seresin filmed Fame, and scriptwriter Duane Adler co-wrote Save The Last Dance.
There’s also some serious talent in the supporting cast: two HBO series regulars, Australia’s Rachel Griffiths (Six Feet Under) and Deirdre Lovejoy (The Wire), manage to avoid acting like they’re slumming in a formulaic high school musical.
Your main reason for seeing Step Up is probably Channing Tatum who plays Tyler. The former Abercrombie & Fitch model spent much of his last movie, She’s The Man, wearing only the bottom half of a tracksuit.
Now he’s beefed up a bit and appears to be doing most of his dance moves without a stand-in. It’s quite an achievement considering what a hindrance his baggy outfits must have been -“ presumably they’re his attempt to conform in the mostly black neighbourhood where he lives.
He’s no great shakes at acting but acquits himself movingly in two big scenes: on the basketball court when he and Mac hug each other while grieving the death of Mac’s little brother, and in the principal’s office when he asks to transfer to Nora’s school.
Mostly, however, we can ignore the plot and concentrate on the musical numbers. The hip-hop soundtrack is scorching hot and the dancing, especially the finale, does it justice. As teen musicals go, it’s worth a look.