You know that Hollywood's costly and pointless 3-D obsession really has hit a nadir when the hip-hop dance battle, the cheesiest of all teen genres, finally gets the goofy-glasses treatment.
At least unlike recent muddled misfires, such as The Last Airbender and Clash of the Titans, Step Up 3-D was intended for the format, not shoddily retrofitted later. That means that all the popping, locking and high-kicking leaps right off the screen, as does a huge cloud of glitter, confetti, smoke and a closetful of hideous DayGlo, faux '80s fashions.
Separating the frenetic dance sequences are chewy slabs of narrative cartilage left over from dozens of "let's put on a show" musicals from days gone by. If it weren't for the custom sneakers, break beats, and multi-ethnic cast, you could mistake the plot for a forgotten Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland vehicle.
The story centers on rich white guy Luke (Rick Malambri), who uses a loan from his parents to convert a grungy Brooklyn loft into a safe haven for a polyglot crew of dancing outcasts with big dreams, nonsensically called "the Pirates." Luke feels these kindred souls were "Born from a Boombox," and he's shooting a documentary about it, though he's too shy to share it. Enter hottie Natalie (Sharni Vinson), who gets Luke to lower his guard and start psyching the gang up to win the underground "World Jam" contest, and the prize money needed to pay the back rent. After a bunch of preliminaries, it all comes down to a requisite showdown against an evil dance troupe, the Samurai, who look so tough in their puffy shoulder pads.
Most of these "battles" consist of spasmodic twitching, variations on the robot, and head-spins so fast they could cause permanent spinal damage. The standout performer is Step Up 2 vet Adam G. Sevani; with his curly mop and big eyes he's a dead ringer for a puppet from the old Hot Fudge show. The kid has some moves, and his athletic, loose-limbed style recalls Ray Bolger, though his line readings indicate he's still missing a brain.
Before you send in your nasty e-mails decrying me as a grouchy old cynic, let me point out that while the choreography is a triumph of high-spirited fun, pretty much every other aspect of this dumb sequel is a cinematic travesty. In fairness, I am a professional film geek and, predictably, will always prefer the stuffy likes of Powell or Mizoguchi to this sort of enjoyable prefab piffle, but I also can't imagine that the intended audience has ever seen a movie that didn't come with an attendant Happy Meal tie-in.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.