Who's in It: Rick Malambri, Sharni Vinson, Adam G. Sevani, Alyson Stoner, Keith Stallworth, Joe Slaughter, Harry Shum, Jr., Stephen "tWitch" Boss, Christopher Scott, Luis Rosado, Facundo and Martin Lombard, Mari Koda
The Basics: After stealing the show in 2008's Step Up 2: The Streets, dance nerd Moose (Adam Sevani) is now a freshman at NYU, where he falls in with another ragtag family with a penchant for serving people. This one's led by the chiseled, brooding Luke (actual former Abercrombie model Rick Malambri), the head of an impossibly well-appointed Manhattan loft-slash-halfway house for wayward poppers, b-boys, and b-girls where, as he explains in the first ten minutes, he and his friends "run a club downstairs to make ends meet." From there, the clichés unfold with abandon: the loft is being foreclosed, the gang must battle international crews to win the money to save it, and Luke's new love interest, Natalie (Sharni Vinson), is hiding a secret underneath those sexy dance sweats. Can these poor-but-passionate street dancers overcome all odds with the power of dance? Of course they can! Get ready to step up in three dimensions, people!
What's The Deal: While it doesn't cohere quite as well as its predecessor, the satisfying dance fairy tale Step Up 2, Step Up 3D is nonetheless the most ambitious of the series -- and not just because it sends dancers popping and locking their way into the audience in 3D. Yes, the 3D dancing is nothing short of amazing, especially when folks like tWitch from So You Think You Can Dance are gyrating straight out of the screen and into your lap. But there's also a secondary thread of heartfelt, no-pretense emotion whenever Malambri's wannabe filmmaker protagonist, standing in for director Jon M. Chu, turns his own camera on his crew, collecting intimate first-person missives about why dancers dance. Unfortunately, where Step Up 3D strives to be clever and referential (hip-hop dance meets West Side Story, complete with star-crossed lovers and gangs with silly names battling in the streets of New York) it comes off clichéd thanks to thinly drawn characters and overdramatic dialogue -- so it's a good thing the plot really only functions to bring about more and more dance numbers, with increasingly astounding, eye-popping results.
The Best 3D/Dance Moments: For the most part, Chu's use of 3D is of the immersive kind -- incredible depth of field combined with meticulously choreographed movement that gives one the feeling of being literally on the ground facing the best dancers on earth, about to get served. Playful, gimmicky moments also abound, as when Sevani gets silly with soap bubbles and unleashes a bunch of balloons into the sky while inadvertently battling one of New York's most feared dancers in a whimsical Washington Square Park dance-off. Sevani notches another highlight and evokes the footloose charm of Donald O'Connor with a sweet, sly duet opposite Alyson Stoner, shot impressively in one take. Also notable, if deliciously silly: the impromptu bathroom battle, Luke and Natalie's morning capoeira-parkour training, the waterlogged callback to Step Up 2's splash-tastic finale, the pint-sized b-boys and b-girl, the light-up suits, and the mind-blowing spectacle that I can only describe in two words: LASER FINGERS!
Dancers To Watch For: Malambri and Vinson may be the requisite pretty leads on whose shoulders the flimsy plot rests, but they're by no means the real stars of Step Up 3D. Dance geeks should keep an eye out for returning Step Up 2 kids Mari Koda, Luis Rosado, Christopher Scott, and Harry Shum Jr.; Argentinean twins Martin and Facundo Lombard, who steal scenes with their manic chemistry; tWitch, Legacy, Katee, Joshua, and other SYTYCD veterans; Anjelo "Lil Demon" Baligad and Jalen " J Styles" Testerman, the baddest little-kid break dancers around; and "Madd Chadd" Smith, a robot expert who moves with Terminator-like precision. Stay for the end credits to enjoy Chu's final gift to the fans: a standalone bonus scene in which finger tutter Jay Franco "J-Smooth" Gutierrez simply sits on a chair and demonstrates his skill in one long, moving, uninterrupted take.
And If You Like The Sound of All That, Why Aren't You Watching: The LXD, or The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, the groundbreaking web series created by Chu currently airing on Hulu? Having amassed a ridiculously talented community of dance creatives around him in the past few years, Chu's recruited a lot of them into his weekly superhero dance series, demonstrating yet again his obvious affection for pop dance as art form. Tune in this week for a mesmerizing solo number by Glee cast member Harry Shum, Jr., and come back to fall in love with the nerdy trio known as the Fanboyz (Terence Dickson, Shonnie Solomon, and Aja George, who also ham it up and fly into your face in Step Up 3D).