A version of this review appeared in the online version of The Age, April 19, 2012.
Youth dance films tend to be underrated upon first release; now that time has put things into perspective, who will deny that Step Up 2: The Streets is a better film than, say, Frost-Nixon? Still, this BBC-funded production is not the best example of its genre.
Falk Hentschel returns as Ash, a brooding hunk who rounds up a new pan-European group of budding dance stars and brings them to Paris where he hopes to win a big competition by blending Latin moves with street attitude. Going Latin, of course, means dancing with a partner, an idea that comes as an unwelcome novelty to Bam Bam (Elisabetta De Carlo), Terabyte (Kaito Masai), Skorpian (Brice Larrieu) and the rest of the hip young things who comprise Ash's crew.
For his part, Ash isn't averse to pairing up with the firebrand salsa dancer Eva (Sofia Boutella) on a personal as well as professional level. First, however, he has to win the approval of her crusty, ethnically ambiguous uncle Manu (a hammy Tom Conti), the sole character in the film over thirty, who invites Ash to dinner and challenges him to a chili-eating competition waged – as seems inevitable – in spaghetti western close-ups.
There's something attractive about the sketchy framework of this corny but energetic B-movie, directed by a pair of music video specialists who bill themselves as “Max & Dania” and scripted by Jill-of-all-trades Jane English, whose other recent BBC credits include the 19th-century lesbian biopic The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister.
The main problem lies with the dance performances which are supposed to be the film's raison d'être: the hectic editing style seems especially misjudged in 3D, and makes the big numbers seem more like highlight montages than fluid routines. That might be fine for hip-hop – where everything seemingly depends on spectacular, isolated moves – but it doesn't work so well with salsa.