It's hard to hate as relentlessly upbeat a film as the weightless Step Up 3D. It's also hard to remember it for very long, it sits so lightly upon the brain.
Set in a world kind of like New York where everyone, including college engineering nerds, has just gotta find the right crew and bust a move, it registers somewhere on the "street" meter between High School Musical, Rent and So You Think You Can Dance.
What it does have is moves being busted ... in 3D! (Gosh, what will they third-dimensionalize next?) This can, admittedly, be visually arresting -- the buoyant choreography in Disney's Step Up series being the one quality that hasn't degraded over three films. It can also be hilariously cheesy, as in those moments when some fly member of the Pirate Crew does a hip-hop/martial-arts version of "jazz hands" in your face.
With a plotline that borrows from The Karate Kid (new kid runs afoul of king-of-the-blond-bad-asses, setting the stage for a last-act underdog smackdown), Step Up 3D brings back Moose (Adam G. Sevani), the nerdy scene-stealing supporting player from Step Up 2: The Streets.
As the movie opens, Moose has apparently swallowed his parents' Kool Aid, agreeing to finally forget about that dance nonsense and concentrate on a strait-laced career in engineering at NYU. He's even got his earnest girlfriend Camille (Alyson Stoner) along to keep an eye on him.
That commitment lasts about as long as it takes Moose to stumble on a street performance by the nasty Samurai Crew (you can tell these are going to be the bad guys, because they wear black). Pushed into the fray, he shows a few moves, has a bit of fun, liberates some balloons, and ends up on the run from both a furious Julien (Joe Slaughter), leader of the Samurai, and a handful of cops.
He's saved at the last minute by the absurdly handsome Luke (Rick Malambri), an aspiring filmmaker and den-mother to the Pirate Crew, a band of misfits who live and dance in an abandoned warehouse Luke inherited from his hippie parents. Luke tends to talk in awkwardly expositional sentences like, "This is Moose. He could be the guy to take us to the World Jam Finals!" -- thus letting us know in the first few minutes how this movie is going to unfold.
There are a few other ingredients in play, including the mysterious Natalie (Sharni Vinson) another homeless stray and dance phenom Luke takes under his wing. And there is at least one bizarre where-did-that-come-from retro moment when Moose tries to make it up to Camille for ignoring her by breaking into song and dragging her into a passable homage to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' I Won't Dance.
The World Jam Finals, full of sass and frontin', don't exactly unfold unpredictably (the Pirates need to win to save their crib from the bank). In fact, the only remarkable thing is how few African-Americans are involved in this consummately African-American-influenced pop-tart of a movie.
(This film is rated PG)