After enduring the unthinkable and plowing through an urban dance drama, I’ve come to the realization that nothing I write in this intro could possibly convey the depth of my indifference for ‘Step Up 2: The Streets.’ I could write about the evolution of the genre from ‘The Red Shoes’ through ‘Dirty Dancing,’ I could make a crack about possible sequel titles (‘Step Up 3: The Roof’ and ‘Step Up 4: Peace in the Middle East’ immediately spring to mind), or I could try to describe the slack-jawed expression that held my face prisoner for 98 minutes. Instead, I’ll simply ask you to conjure up the most wearied, apathetic sigh conceivable to man, and imagine it coming out of my mouth.
’Step Up 2: The Streets’ follows a teenager named Andie (Briana Evigan) -- a member of a quasi-dance-gang called the 410 -- who helps her “crew” compete in illegal street-dance competitions throughout Baltimore. When her aunt and guardian, Sarah (Sonja Sohn), threatens to send Andie to Texas if she doesn’t get her life together, the young dreamer auditions for the dance program at the Maryland School of the Arts (the MSA). There, she impresses a student named Chase (Robert Hoffman) who persuades the Program Director to accept her to the school. Of course, the members of the 410 are none too pleased and ban Andie from dancing with their crew. Inevitably, this leads Andie to form a rival crew that’s destined to show the 410 there are better dancers on the block.
In case the synopsis didn’t already make it clear, director Jon Chu (‘When the Kids Are Away,’ ‘Silent Beats’) and a trio of writers parade every cliché the dance genre has seen across the screen ad nauseam. There’s a stuffy program director (Will Kemp) who despises street dancing but finally accepts it as a legitimate art form, an adversarial dancer (Black Thomas) who’s arrogance leads to his downfall, and plenty of scowls turning into cheers as Andie’s crew proves themselves on the streets. Rather than focus on the characters’ inner passions or the sacrifices they make in pursuit of their dreams, Chu trots out the same, tired coming-of-age elements that other directors have really sunk their teeth into. Worse still, Chu never gives Andie a convincing purpose, the writers fail to make her more complex than any other cinematic teen rebel, and the film itself doesn’t establish a compelling conflict.
In fact, it all seems trite and beside the point. Since I’ve religiously followed every episode of ‘The Wire,’ it’s clear that actual Baltimore teens have far more to fear than rival dance gangs. The Baltimore we see in ‘Step Up 2: The Streets’ is nothing more than a stylized over-glamorization of the real thing -- I live an hour outside of the city and this bizarre, neon-lit imitation looks far too much like the backstreets of L.A. Thankfully, the MSA scenes (despite falling victim to the same excruciating dialogue as the rest of the film) struck me as more authentic. It’s a shame too. There’s quite a bit of talent on the screen at any given moment, but the young actors just don’t have anything to work with. The dialogue is stocky and insincere, the story is paper thin, and the plot developments don’t allow the actors to bring any complexity to their characters.
At the end of the day, you already know if ‘Step Up 2: The Streets’ is the sort of film you (or someone in your family) will enjoy. Anyone who’s seen the trailer has either muttered, “that’s for me” or “absolutely not.” Perhaps I’m not the best person to review this clichéd mess, but I doubt such lightweight drama will even appeal to genre fans. While it probably goes without saying, approach this fluffy junk with caution.
I remember seeing previews for ‘Step Up 2: The Streets’ and thinking the final film would be drenched in a candy-colored, Tokyo-Pop primaries. To my surprise, the 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer featured on this release is actually a drab, undersaturated affair that attempts to tap into the backstreet woes of inner-city Baltimore. While some of the scenes at the MSA have a warm and inviting appearance, skintones are more subdued when cameras leave the school, black levels are heavy, and shadows often obscure the backgrounds of the city alleys. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the picture soft, but the transfer definitely isn't as refined as other high-def releases. More annoying is the fact that contrast isn’t stable, strong, or consistent -- the image doesn’t pop and it certainly doesn’t have the wow factor one might expect from a flashy, modern dance pic.
Even so, the transfer still manages to render enough of the film’s fine details to at least make it obvious you’re watching a 1080p presentation. Textures are intact, edges are fairly sharp without relying on any pesky enhancement, and the clean image doesn’t suffer from artifacting, unintentional source noise, or invasive DNR. All in all, ‘Step Up 2: The Streets’ most likely looks just as its director intended. However, since I didn’t catch the film in theaters, it’s difficult to tell if the transfer is faithful or merely underwhelming. Either way, compared to other modern high-def releases on the market, this presentation is above average but unimpressive on the whole.
Leaving a far more substantial mark than its video counterpart, the uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround track (48kHz/24-Bit/6.9Mbps) Disney mastered for this high-def release sounds great. While dialogue seems unnaturally anchored to the center speaker, it remains clean, stable, and well prioritized throughout the entire film. Better still, the rear soundfield boasts a welcome level of acoustic realism (particularly in the MSA classrooms and dance halls), features a healthy amount of subtle ambience, and allows the pulsing music to completely envelop the listener. As it stands, I came to ‘Step Up 2: The Streets’ expecting to be bowled over by the audio quality of the soundtrack and, I’m happy to report, I wasn’t disappointed. The pounding bass beats and intricate high-end, hip-hop intonations sound fantastic -- I’m a fan of any track that hits from all angles and this kept me immersed in the film’s key dance sequences.
Unfortunately, when the music isn’t dominating the mix, the film sounds a bit lifeless. It’s a minor complaint to be sure -- and one I’m sure the director would be happy to explain enhances the tone of his film -- but worth mentioning. The soundfield just doesn’t exhibit the same depth and dimensionality that it does when its upbeats are beating down the door. In the end, ‘Step Up 2: The Streets’ sounds every bit as good as it should and will easily please fans looking to revisit the sonic experience they had in theaters.
The Blu-ray version of ‘Step Up 2: The Streets’ features the same supplemental package as the standard Dance-Off edition DVD. While I can’t vouch for the quality of the content since it didn’t appeal to me personally, fans of the film will be pleased to find that most of the video content is presented in high definition.
’Step Up 2: The Streets’ is a clichéd, by-the-numbers entry in a genre that hasn’t made a comfortable transition into the modern age. Unfortunately, this Blu-ray release isn’t much better. Aside from an excellent uncompressed audio track, this disc suffers from an underwhelming video transfer and an anemic collection of supplements. Unless you already know this is the sort of movie you’ll enjoy, skip this disc and spend your cash elsewhere.