On the first day of its release, Step Up (PG-13 for occasional profanity and violence) became the No. 1 film in the country, and it's not hard to see why. Like Earth, Wind and Fire, the R&B band whose song "Getaway" is briefly heard during one of many musical moments, Step Up takes a familiar formula and pumps it full of energy. The main formula here is that opposites attract.
So it is that aspiring professional ballerina Nora Clark (Jenna Dewan), a senior at the Maryland School for the Arts, falls for Tyler Gage (Channing Tatum), a neglectfully supervised foster child whose main talents are hip-hop dancing, basketball, and stealing cars.
Tyler, as punishment for a vandalism conviction, is assigned community-service duty at Nora's school. A series of only-in-Hollywood coincidences transpires. Before long Tyler has become Nora's rehearsal partner for her all-important senior showcase.
Tyler's friends in the hood feel slighted by his decreasing amount of buddy time, giving rise to various subplots and real-life complexity uncommon in teen-romance films. The film is more hopeful than happy, with characters facing choices that imply another conflict lies beyond every resolution.
Despite the film's primary setting-the rough streets and poor neighborhoods of inner-city Baltimore-it not only stops short of wallowing in degradation but also grants nearly equal time to the art school's world of order, hard work, and discipline. Furthermore, just as sin (untrammeled ambition, betrayal) is shown to exist in the school, goodness of a kind (fraternal love, self-sacrifice) is shown to exist in the hood.
It's no surprise that, as the directorial debut of the choreographer Anne Fletcher, Step Up abounds with dancing, but neither it nor the soundtrack overwhelms the plot or the acting. If anything, the dancing serves as an artful metaphor for the relationships-romantic, filial, and otherwise-that bring the film to life.