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'Step Up Revolution' review: The dance is better than ever, but the acting's still kinda cheesy

** (out of 4)

“Step Up Revolution” starts with the same romantic set-up as the original “Step Up,” starring Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan: Rough dude from the ’hood meets uptight uptown girl. Dancer Kathryn McCormick (Season 6 finalist from Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance”) plays aspiring professional dancer/rich hotel mogul’s daughter Emily, and Ryan Guzman (commercial actor, print model and former MMA fighter) plays Sean, a lowly hotel staffer who also happens to lead a dance crew on the side. 

This time around, the framework for elaborate dance sequences isn’t a school recital, a street dance battle or a hip-hop dance competition. In an attempt to loosen up her style for a crucial dance audition, Emily joins Sean (Guzman) and his crew, The Mob, to stage elaborate flash mobs all over Miami. At first, their goal is to score enough views on YouTube videos of their flash mobs to win a $100,000 contest. Then, they find out that the Miami neighborhood that Sean and other Mob members grew up in is going to be razed to make way for a new luxury hotel development courtesy of Emily’s big-shot dad—and it’s Emily who suggests they stage a flash mob as a protest instead of spectacle.

Some aspects seem realistic enough (The Mob’s YouTube rival is a viral video about a cat who loves dubstep). Some are unrealistic but still entertaining (Sean and his pals plan flash mobs with an “Ocean’s Eleven”-like caliber of preparation), and others are just eyeroll-worthy. Why is a group that looks to have a bottomless budget for elaborate flash-mob costumes and props so hard up for prize money?

McCormick acts about as well as Guzman dances—it’s serviceable but sometimes clunky. Both are newcomers to film acting, but because McCormick is a stunning dancer by trade and Guzman learned to dance for the movie, the film is at least without the distraction of dance doubles. The dance scenes, which range from an impressive opening number with The Mob dancing atop cars on Ocean Drive to a massive finale number with non-stop-action, are undoubtedly more elaborate than the previous "Step Up" films, both in production value and the variety of dance styles represented. Some of the dancing, unfortunately, does have the occasional jerkiness that predecessor “Step Up 3D” also suffered as a side effect of 3D.

There are plenty of treats for “So You Think You Can Dance” fans, including more lines for Twitch (“Step Up 3D”), a captivating restaurant dance scene starring McCormick by contestant-turned-choreographer Travis Wall and an entertaining cameo appearance by Mia Michaels, who channels an exaggerated version of her “SYTYCD” judge persona as the pretentious artistic director of the dance company for which Emily auditions. 

As Emily’s brusque and dismissive hotel mogul father, Peter Gallagher is just as much the dance-movie villain as he was 12 years ago as the ruthless ballet company director in “Center Stage,” but his sudden change of heart in the end is chuckle-worthy.

True-blue fans of dance movies are used to suspending disbelief, and they’ll have to do it again to get through parts of “Step Up Revolution.” But as a reward, you’ll see the best dancing of the series.

lmarnett@tribune.com | @redyeeats

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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