Guilty As Charged

Secretly love the Step Up movies? So do we!

The third installment in Disney's lucrative Step Up dance-flick franchise opens on Friday, retrofitted in the inevitable 3-D. And I'm already counting the days.

It's not because the two previous Step Ups are the dance-movie equivalent of The Lord of the Rings. And it's certainly not because I'm expecting a game-changing subversion of the laughably predictable Step Up formula (Disney is too smart and way too cynical for that). No, it's because the Step Up movies represent the closest thing we have to a bona fide guilty pleasure in today's increasingly homogenized, shrink-wrapped multiplex universe.

Funny thing is, I never really believed in the whole notion of cinematic guilty pleasures. If a film gave me pleasure, what was there to feel guilty about? I used to make hemming-and-hawing excuses/defenses/rationalizations for every so-called "bad" movie that I liked. Valley of the Dolls? An über-Sirkian melodrama that plays — brilliantly at times — like the last gasp of Old Hollywood. Can't Stop the Music? A giddy, candy-colored celebration of gay liberation in the halcyon playground of post-Stonewall, pre-AIDS Manhattan. See? Anyone can do it.

That was before dancing toe-to-toe with a movie that no amount of Good Samaritanship on my part could possibly defend in any rational way. The culprit was Breakin', a spectacularly cheesy but good-natured attempt to cash in on the brief mid-'80s vogue of breakdancing. Even the names of the Breakin' actors were ridiculous: Boogaloo Shrimp, Shabba-Doo. Louis B. Mayer himself would have rejected the story as "too corny" if someone had attempted to graft a 1940s Mickey-and-Judy musical onto it.

But I saw Breakin' three times during its original release and was ecstatic (if a tad embarrassed by my enthusiasm) when the deliriously titled Breakin' 2:  Electric Boogaloo opened less than a year later.

The Breakin' duo single-handedly reversed my previous dismissive take on guilty pleasures. I finally understood why crap-movie aficionados rhapsodized over the so-bad-it's-good virtues of Plan 9 From Outer Space and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Yes, some films can be so laughably shoddy and inept that they're downright irresistible.

Not that anyone would ever call the Step Up movies shoddy or inept.  They're as slickly manufactured as virtually any mainstream studio release these days. What makes them indecently pleasurable is the straight-faced idiocy of their absurdly predictable plotting (snooty rich girl falls for wrong-side-of-the-tracks dude in dance class, or vice versa), the less-than-subtle performances (although Channing Tatum wasn't bad in the original 2006 Step Up), and the fact that I'm far removed from the core demographic for this sort of tweener bait (middle-aged white guy with two left feet).

That's why I'll guiltily line up this weekend, hoping that none of my friends — all trotting off to appropriately grown-up fare like Inception and The Kids Are All Right — will notice me sheepishly skulking in to see Step Up 3-D. I wouldn't miss it for anything in the world. Except maybe a new Breakin' movie.

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