Dir: Trish Sie. US. 2014. 112mins

Step Up All In

The fifth entry in the Step Up franchise, originally top-lined by Channing Tatum, could sorely use a booster shot in the charisma department. Much amazing dance talent is again given dazzling showcase, but the sporadic bursts of cathartic joyfulness herein are fewer and further between than in any movie in the series — proof once more that a film needs meaningful connective tissue between what could otherwise suffice as a series of YouTube video clips.

This entry feels even more pro forma than any of its predecessors, too, which is saying something.

Opening Stateside against Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Into the Storm, two fellow PG-13 films that would seem to eat into the same youthful demographic, Step Up All In will face steep odds in replicating even the $35 million domestic gross of its last entry in the series, which was itself already almost half off the $65 million Stateside haul of 2006’s Step Up. Until Tatum and off-screen wife Jenna Dewan, who met on that film, grant the franchise a return, overseas is where this series will dance for its supper; its previous two entries each grossed over $100 million internationally, and All In is already a foreign player, having pulled in just short of $40 million in 14 territories that saw July openings.

Step Up All In takes place roughly six months after the events at the end of the last movie, Step Up Revolution. Sean (Ryan Guzman) and his crew, the Mob, have moved from Miami to Los Angeles. Even dancers have to pay rent, however, and Eddy (Misha Gabriel) and the rest of the Mob, struggling to book jobs from the cutthroat audition circuit, decide to leave Sean and head back east.

After the requisite moping, Sean sets his sights on a reality show hosted by Alexxa Brava (Izabella Miko) called The Vortex, where a three-year Las Vegas group dance contract is on the line. Moose (Adam Sevani) and hard-won girlfriend Camille (Alyson Stoner) put their lives on hold to help Sean round up a new crew, which includes a bunch of faces fans will recognise from previous series entries, including Andie (Briana Evigan), Vladd (Chadd Smith), the Santiago twins (Facundo Lombard and Martin Lombard) and Jenny (Mari Koda), among others. Much dancing ensues, naturally.

Nuance and canonical exactitude are certainly not at the core of the Step Up franchise’s appeal, but the series has in the past shown an appetite for at least a little ambition, and connection to real-world issues. In ditching Sean and Andie’s previous respective love interests and foisting a romantic connection upon them, however, All In screenwriter John Swetnam (who also wrote this week’s Into the Storm, coincidentally) seems to be shrugging off anything viewers might have previously gleaned from characters.

This entry feels even more pro forma than any of its predecessors, too, which is saying something. Even the idea of building the movie around a dance reality show competition, which seems of-the-moment and full of potential, comes across as uninspired in its execution, leaving far too much rich terrain unexplored.

It doesn’t help that the movie leans on chesty, glowering confrontations. In the right sort of context, and with the right director and framing, this mode of rote expression can tap into the senses of exaltation that are this series’ core demographic — it’s hormone-driven emotional connection by proxy. All In, though, is powered in equal measure by abundant contrivances and awkward dialogue, and to boot feels more than a bit bloated at 112 minutes.

Debut director Trish Sie, a music video maker and former competitive ballroom dancer, obviously knows the world of dance, but nothing she and cinematographer Brian Pearson craft here quite touches the giddy highs of the best moments in the Jon Chu-helmed second and third films in the series — which included a single-take street scene, and a splash-riffic battle sequence.

Choreographers Jamal Sims, Christopher Scott and Dondraco Johnson concoct a number of rowdy, eye-popping spectacles that make nice use of 3-D, but, with the possible exception of a sequence in which Sean and Andie dance to Bobby Brown’s “Every Little Step,” there’s not a lot of connection to anything with sincere feeling.

Puberty has dulled a bit of the goofy charm of the now-22-year-old Sevani, who has co-starred in the movies ever since 2008’s Step Up 2: The Streets, but his Moose is still the series’ best, most engaging character. Guzman, however, is a woefully dull personality to hang a franchise like this upon, and his vacant-eyed performance saps scenes of any chemistry or forward-leaning momentum, with Evigan or otherwise.

Production companies: Offspring Entertainment, Summit Entertainment

US distribution: Lionsgate Entertainment

Producers: Jennifer Gibgot, Adam Shankman, Patrick Wachsberger, Erik Feig

Executive producers: Jon Chu, David Nicksay, Scott Speer, Bob Hayward, Matthew Smith, David Garrett, Meredith Milton

Screenplay: John Swetnam, based on characters created by Duane Adler

Cinematography: Brian Pearson

Editor: Niven Howie

Production designer: Devorah Herbert

Music: Jeff Cardoni

Website: www.StepUpMovie.com

Main cast: Ryan Guzman, Briana Evigan, Misha Gabriel, Stephen Boss, Izabella Miko, Alyson Stoner, Adam Sevani, Mari Koda, David Shreibman, Chadd Smith, Facundo Lombard, Martin Lombard, Luis Rosado, Christopher Scott, Parris Goebel, Cyrus Spencer, Stephen Jones