An exhilarating summer treat for all ages, "Step Up 3D" celebrates the transformative power of dance. The third installment in the popular series, it is the first American dance drama shot in digital 3-D and in its unpretentious way is the very model of the organic film musical in which there is a taut integration of cinematography, production design, choreography and dynamic music. The story line flows into dance numbers, and the use of very sharp 3-D images resists mere gimmickry to express the exuberance of the dancers leaping right off the screen and sheer youthful energy and high spirits.
"Step Up 3D" has a zesty flow and movement that echoes its dances. Director Jon M. Chu, who made his feature debut with "Step Up 2: The Streets," commands a cast of 250 and a huge crew with ease and verve.
Writers Amy Andelson and Emily Meyer, drawing from characters created by Duane Adler, balance razzle-dazzle hip-hop sequences with two well-drawn, complicated romances. Aspiring filmmaker-dancer Luke ( Rick Malambri) has purchased an old Brooklyn riverside factory to form the House of Pirates, at once a club, studio and dormitory for hip-hop performers who are gearing up to compete in the World Jam competition, which offers a $100,000 prize — just what Luke needs to stave off imminent foreclosure. Drawn to the House of Pirates is the beautiful and talented dancer Natalie (Sharni Vinson) and Moose ( Adam G. Sevani), a boyish NYU freshman torn between parental obligation to study hard and his love of dance. He neglects adorable Camille ( Alyson Stoner), his lifelong best friend, oblivious of her love for him.
Some melodramatic complications teeter into the risible but are quickly deflected by the spectacle of explosive dance, and the film's four appealing stars act as well as they dance. In a contrast to hip-hop, Luke and Natalie perform a sensual tango number, and Moose and Camille put a fresh spin on the Fred Astaire classic "I Won't Dance," taking it to the streets. Indeed, Manhattan in 3-D, especially a ride through Times Square, is awesome, but Chu wisely avoids a travelogue feel; more important, the film's key characters are three-dimensional apart from any film process.