The Krumper Games
I understand why people give Hollywood flak for the Instantaneous Reboot craze. Marvel's recent announcement of a Drew Goddard-helmed Spider-Man movie constitutes that character's third big-screen re-imagining (spanning six films to date) in fifteen years.* By the time it comes out, we'll also have seen more of the "new" Transformers, a "new" Batman, a "new" Deadpool, and Lord knows what else. But why, wait? There's another franchise, happening right now, that features attractive, athletic kids leaping about in spandex while saving the world from tyranny and corruption.
Yes, I'm talking about the fifth Step Up movie. Maybe the filmmakers called it "All In" because the climactic dance-off takes place in Las Vegas. Or maybe because they simply dumped the series' entire ingredients list into a blender that had already been switched on. Either way, this isn't really a sequel, and it's not technically a reboot. Like the three films before it,** All In could exist at any point along its own timeline, with zero confusion on the part of the audience.
The movies always open with a down-on-his/her-luck dancer getting picked on by a snooty gang who doesn't believe in his/her dream. That dancer learns of a competition that will yield not just a cash prize but also respect in the underground dance community (or whatever the Fast and the Furious equivalent of dancing is). Our hero crews up, finds reluctant love from someone on the wrong/right side of the tracks, and struggles to stay focused as old rivalries flare and flame out in the Big 3-D Showdown.
My wife and I are big fans of these films. They're a hoot to watch at home in bed with wine, Lucky Charms, and Ambien. Our hair-pulling frustration of barely remembering characters from movie to movie; frequent refill and bathroom breaks during innumerable, interminable dance numbers; and uproarious laughter at mega-talented dancers face-planting in the acting arena are more than polite society can handle. Staying home for Step Up the Simmons household's version of civic duty.
At the very least, All In features a different design on its McNugget packaging. The Vegas competition is actually a VH1 reality show presided over by a Lady Gaga-type (Izabella Miko), who thinks she's running The Hunger Games. The omnipresent fire, weird costumes, and media conspiracies are a welcome distraction from The Big Questions--like, why our heroes worry about having to go back to their day-jobs if they lose the competition, when each of them walked off those jobs in order to join the competition?
When our heroes (whose awesome, All Caps group name, LMNTRIX, does not stand for "Lemon Trix", sadly) find out that VH1 has rigged the contest voting to garner higher ratings (SPOILER!), they decide to "beat them at their own game." You or I might assume this involves forming a multi-billion-dollar global TV brand and starting a reality show that pits other reality shows against each other--and rigging said mega-show in their favor. But, no. As always, the solution is "dance, dance, dance."
Becaue the contest prize is a three year performance contract at Caesars Palace, and because LMNTRIX wins in the end (DOUBLE SPOILER!)--does that mean we're off the hook with these films until 2017?
Step Up: All In has all the trappings of a comic book movie: elaborate, sci-fi sets (seriously); high-stakes melodrama; psychic twins (Facundo and Martin Lombard); a scrappy short fella (Misha Gabriel); and a pair of leaders with questionable sexual chemistry (Ryan Guzman and Briana Evigan). Most importantly, it has Chadd Smith as the silent robot impersonator, Vladd.
Vladd has appeared in a number of Step Up films, and his character's a little different each time out. Though mostly used as set dressing when not called upon the tear up the dance floor, his character--or at least his presence--is the most evolved here. I couldn't take my eyes off him, and I searched every scene to see if he was in it. This Where's Waldo-like obsession may have to do with my having seen Under the Skin last year. I kept imagining Vladd as Scarlett Johansson's alien-observer counterpart; perhaps he landed in America instead of Scotland, and was adopted by magazine-glossy street artists. Can the series' rotating cast be explained away by Vladd's having absorbed some of his fellow performers into a lethal sex pool of shimmering black goo?
I like to think so.
Director Trish Sie deserves a lot of credit for keeping things fresh in the fifth go-round. Even ironic, laugh-riot freshness is better than the stale, rinse/repeat scenario of some franchises. If nothing else, I hope these movies inspire their core audience to leave the house and seek out real life dance competitions--to be inspired by flesh-and-blood performers whose stories (hopefully) can't fit into a reboot-able template. As for me, I'm an old married dad now, so until Step Up: Equal Pay for Equal Twerk comes out, I'll keep the wine chilled and the cereal crunchy.
*Fourth, if you count the web-slinger's rumored appearance in Avengers 3.
**I don't count 2006's Channing Tatum vehicle, since it's the "original".