Step up 2 The Streets opens with a bang of a set piece, only to settle into a mediocre first act that suggests it might turn out to be just another ho-hum teenage dance flick. The movie does turn out to have more up its sleeve, but the project’s strength is not the originality of its story.
Plot-wise, Step Up 2 is standard genre stuff: Andie (Briana Evigan) is a troubled high school student seeking solace in the aftermath of her mother’s death with a crew of street dancers called the 410 who she considers her de facto family. When Andie’s guardian gets fed up with her running in the streets and threatens to send her to live with an aunt in Texas, Andie has only one alternative: let her old friend from the neighborhood, Tylor Gage (Channing Tatum, Step Up) get her an audition at his prestigious performing arts school, MSA. Annie aces her private school audition, but the 410 crew doesn’t take kindly to her defection to the other side of the tracks, and Andie soon finds herself kicked out of the 410. Andie responds by starting her own crew, the MSA, with MSA’s star student, Chase (Robert Hoffman, You Got Served) in order to challenge her old crew to a street battle.
Happily, the movie heats up once Andie and Chase start assembling their own crew. The movie becomes a kind of dance version of The Bad News Bears as the unlikely pair cobbles together a ragtag group of private school misfits to form their MSA crew. The standout among the MSA oddballs is Andie’s sidekick Moose, played winningly by a 14-year-old actor (Adam G. Sevani) who manages to steal a few scenes despite being saddled with the potentially cliché role of ‘quirky friend’.
It goes without saying that dance movies should have a lot of dancing in them, and it is in this respect that Step Up 2 doesn’t disappoint. First time director Jon Chu was clearly on a mission to feature as much variety in the dance sequences as possible and, in an attempt to give each dance crew a noticeably different style, he hired three different top choreographers. Hi Hat (Bring It On) choreographed the 410 crew, Dave Scott (Stomp the Yard) choreographed the MSA crew, and Jamal Sims (Hairspray) acted as supervising choreographer. The actors weren’t allowed to see their rival crews' performances until they shot their scenes, which explains the palpable excitement during the competition sequences.
What Step Up 2 lacks in polish (on-the-nose dialogue, choppy pacing, vague character motivations) it more than makes up for in energy and spirit. Because the actors all seem to genuinely love dancing, their enthusiasm is infectious. And the director’s affection for traditional musicals shows in the way he successfully transitions dramatic scenes into dance sequences. The final dance-off is a lot of fun, and it leaves you feeling that—assuming you’re up for a high-energy, teenybopper dance movie—you got what you came for.