In the world of the dance movie, life is stripped down to the honesty of bodies in motion and a rhythm-dictated intimacy that can’t be denied. There’s usually a class factor, a competitive element, a disapproving authority figure, or perhaps all three. Step Up — Fame on Beat Street, played against the grim West Bawlmer canvas of The Wire — tips its backward ball cap to those elements. (Indeed, the core story has been recycled by writer Duane Adler from his own Save the Last Dance.) But Step, under the sure hand of director-choreographer Anne Fletcher, quickly discovers its own virtuoso charms. Two of them are its leads: Channing Tatum as budding criminal Tyler — all slot eyes and thug shrugs until he hits the dance floor — and Jenna Dewan as Nora, a rich kid shooting for that elusive chance to dance.
The meet-cute: When Nora’s partner is injured, Tyler, who’s trudging through some court-ordered janitorial work, convinces her he can sub. But Step doesn’t dwell on class-crossed romance: It’s more concerned with the pirouetting mini-betrayals and miracle catches of partnership. Tatum has a bracing rectangular naturalness and easy chemistry with the lithe Dewan, on the floor and off. Their dance styles never really jell, and the movie is lazy-vague on the actual art form, privileging will over skill. But the pair is fused by the film’s pulsing energy, which is both sincere and irresistible.