There is a point at which Carly, the plucky heroine of new British dance movie, Streetdance 3D, is taken to a classical ballet (Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet) by her dance school mentor. Sceptical at first, she finds herself drawn in. As they leave the theatre, she marvels at how they managed to portray an entire tragic love story without words.
Lucky them. The rest of us have to endure what passes for a Streetdance script. Dance movies are not particularly known for ever exercising the best screenplay judges at movie awards, but Streetdance drags the genre down to new lows. It’s been concocted by someone who saw Step Up 2: The Streets, went on an all-weekend bender and then verbally vomited up his hazy memory of the least worst parts.
Normally when I review things that other people may not have seen, I either warn them of spoilers or try to avoid them altogether. There’s no point doing either here, as the template for dance movies is so rigidly adhered to that you know what’s going to happen even before you walk into the cinema.
First, a brief diversion into some of the movie’s good points. Filmed to take advantage of street dance’s incursions into mainstream popular culture, it uses the most visible proponents of that breakthrough – Britain’s Got Talent winners George Sampson and Diversity and finalists Fearless – as a means of attracting an audience. Nothing wrong with that: they are all charismatic performers.
Unfortunately, Diversity are particularly poorly served. Given just one dance number to showcase the group’s work, the poor direction and editing actively works against the impressive choreography. One almost suspects that the directors only had access to Diversity for part of an afternoon, shot what they could and desperately tried to cobble together a decent edit. If that’s the case, they failed.
Flawless, who reached last year’s BGT final before being beaten by both Diversity and Susan Boyle, get a much greater slice of the action. Here, they become reigning champions The Surge, the biggest threat to Carly and her ragtag group of young hopefuls. Meanwhile, Sampson is the plucky young pal who keeps on insisting that he’s good enough to dance with the gang, if only they would give him a chance. Do you think he might prove his worth by the end of the film? Do you? (He does.)
The use of 3D actually does work quite well in the dance sequences. It allows the choreography (principally by Kenrick Sandy and Kate Prince) to be closer to stage work, where the live audience take that third dimension for granted. In the aforementioned scene where Carly is transfixed by the classical ballet dancers, the director keeps the camera on her while balletic forms flit between her and us, suspended above the auditorium.
If only the characters were three dimensional. As it is, they struggle to be even 2D. Everywhere you look there are characters that give stereotypes a bad name: the surly European ballet teacher, the prissy ballet dancers who struggle to eat a whole stick of celery for lunch, the obdurate boss who has a heart of gold.
Some of the writing is just lazy, but some goes further and just becomes almost offensively laughable. We have a ballet school where students walk around in tightly knit groups who all dress alike (three girls in purple leotards here, two guys in black unitards there). Apparently nobody at the ballet school has ever heard of any other dance discipline. And one girl ends up sobbing because she’s been told she’s too tall for her Royal Ballet auditions, a plot point which gets conveniently forgotten when said auditions come around. Which, of course, coincides with the big street dance competition that the former ballet dancers are now all heavily invested in.
The dancing may be high quality – alongside the streetdancers, the ballet school cast include Matthew Bourne protege Richard Winsor and former Ballet Black dancer Hugo Cortes, who also impressed in the audition stages of the BBC show So You Think You Can Dance – but someone, somewhere decided that it really wasn’t worth bothering with a script to match. Early in the film, sandwich delivery girl Carly notes that the ballet rehearsals lack something, because the dancers aren’t emotionally connecting with the material. If only the creative talents behind Streetdance 3D had listened to their own lesson.