So Baaad it's Good? "Step Up 3D" Tells the Honest to Tea Party Truth

Courtney Sheehan calls "Step Up 3D" a zeitgeist film, Erin Trahan allows it's a fun 3D romp with questionable relevance to indie filmmakers.

Dunks photographed by Team Dalog.
Dunks photographed by Team Dalog.

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Erin Trahan: So, why did you implore me to see Step Up 3-D? It’s not exactly an A+ movie, nor is it independent.

Courtney Sheehan: Dunks. Step Up 3-D is about Nike Dunks. Step Up 3-D is about American values.

Trahan: I can watch Tea Party rallies if I want to conflate Nike with American values. Please elaborate.

Sheehan: This is no Tea Party. This is the naked truth of the times we live in—for better or worse, because Step Up 3D suggests that dancing always makes things better—even consumerism. When we first meet the character Moose (or I should say dancer Adam G. Savani) at his first day of NYU freshman orientation, a pair of limited edition Nike Dunks catches his eye. He follows the Dunks to a dance-off in Washington Square, but that’s not what’s important. The Dunks are important.

Trahan: How so? Because it plants a product to reward our hero later? Step Up 3-D was fun but I’ve been more enticed by the narrative twists of an NPR fundraiser.

Sheehan: Anyone who calls the script or the acting or the narrative idiotic is idiotic. The only reason that dialogue exists in this movie is to justify the wide-release, costly three-dimensional projection, and a $13 ticket price. The movie pays lip service to notions like plot and character development, but it’s not invested in any of it. The movie explicitly admits this fact, it celebrates it—unabashedly, wholeheartedly. The joke's on the haters. This is its genius.

Trahan: (I paid $14.50, btw. ) Ok, ok, there were some legitimate 3D moments—Icee blobs flying at my face, lasers galore, and some exceptional dance moves, even if some footage was not-so-sublty sped up.

Sheehan: Try and convince me that if you saw any of the dancers featured in this film doing their thang on the streets, you wouldn't be blown away. So many types of innovation are on display that you can't help but marvel: at times, dancing is reduced to the anatomical level of necks and knuckles alone. Nothing before this movie would have convinced me that isolated body parts were capable of expressing such stunning choreography. Besides, Variety says it's "one of the few 3D releases since Avatar to make compelling use of the format!"

Trahan: Don’t even get me started on Avatar, the epitome of racial and political hypocrisy. I think we have to be frank about this film’s few-faced messages.

Sheehan: The movie itself doesn't make any political leaps and bounds but it places a strong value on racial diversity. The team we root for are the multi-racial Pirates; they tend to compete and win against teams of one race. And part of its charm and honesty is its unapologetic embracing of contradiction: dance is art, the film says, but Moose's dance skills are only validated when he finally earns his kicks—his Dunks. Can't the things we love be both/and? Art and product? Identity expression and consumerism? We live the era of late capitalism, accept it or you'll be left behind.

Trahan: Who cares if the Pirates are diverse if only white characters drive the movie’s plot? Sorry, but Rick Malambri does not read “rag tag captain of street-dancing crew.” He reads, “stand in for Tom Brady” in a GQ photo shoot. Sharni Vinson, the female lead, is far more interesting, perhaps because she earns a “racially ambiguous stamp” like that woman in the tampon ad. Having dark hair will do that.

Courtney Sheehan: The white leads are so overwhelmingly boring and far and away the worst actors in the film—just like the plot, they're a farce. The director, Jon Chu, knows that white faces may need to be plastered on posters to sell more tickets, but once you get inside the theater, you realize that the show is NOT about the unfortunate leads. This is a movie about bodies in ways that most white people just aren't tapped into, which makes the white-majority club of critics automatically suspicious and critical. I've rarely witnessed a crowd so pleased: mid-film applause was frequent, laughter uproarious, and "daaaayumns" heartfelt. With an audience this genuinely entertained, moved, even tickled-—who would feel good cutting this movie at the knees?

Trahan: I may be posing as devil’s advocate here but I am not writing the whole film off. Not after the water-splash dance sequence or Fred Astaire tribute. I happen to love movies about teen culture but I tire when the same old is re-packaged and sold to every generation.

Sheehan: Exactly! It’s a zeitgeist film in the most unapologetic way. It is to be congratulated for what it knows it’s doing with unconscious effects that are downright sublime, transcendent. It’s the American dream (ahem, Apparel), the immigrant experience, a happily bloated commercial, an ode to Parkour. It’s so much more than fancy footwork. Step Up 3D is NOW.

Trahan: Why, again, is it relevant to independent filmmakers?

Sheehan: Do I have to say it twice? We live the era of late capitalism, accept it or you'll be left behind.

Trahan: Pick your point in capitalism, artists, and the nonprofit online magazines that write about them, always get left behind.

Sheehan: Sounds like you need to go back to the theater.

Trahan: Yes, please recommend a tragic doc that will tear my guts out.