"Does this always have to end up in a big, giant dance battle?" sighs Step Up 2 and 3 stalwart Moose (Adam G. Sevani) in the franchise's fifth and newest film, Step Up All In. Well, yes -- that's the idea.
Every entry has climaxed in sweaty, glorious success: These successive bands of hoofers -- strangers to one another -- have won the girl, saved the studio, and scored a Nike contract. But the interesting hook this go-round is that these happy endings have proven fleeting. The girl went on tour, the studio was left behind in a move, and the Nike contact was mere pennies after the 12-person dance crew divvied it up into a dozen shares.
So, yes, Moose. These broke break-dancers need another dance battle, and like bank robbers for one last heist, this time they've gotta make it count. Here, the prize is a three-year Vegas contract -- a natural fit for these funky Olympians. Overachiever Sean (Ryan Guzman), who made his debut in the fourth flick, Step Up Revolution, summons the most memorable dancers of the previous films. Reuniting, or really, introducing, the gang is a gimmick. It's also self-destructive -- cramming in all these characters chokes up the plot, and who watches a Step Up for the plot? The last two films were the purest form of cinema as spectacle: Directors Jon M. Chu and Scott Speer had more fun using 3-D than James Cameron did with Avatar, and at a fraction of the price. If only new director Trish Sie shared that sense of poetry. Step Up All In cuts too fast, the way an MTV hack does when forced to disguise that a starlet can't move.