Two years after Step Up 4: Miami Heat (2012) Sean Asa (Ryan Guzman) and his dance crew the Mob are in L.A. no closer to realizing their dancing dreams, failing audition after audition as their moral sinks lower. Adding insult to injury the Mob are humiliated in a bar room dance-off by a younger, hipper dance crew called the Grim Knights. Abandoned by his friends Sean visits our old pal Moose (Adam G. Sevani) who sets him up with a steady, if demeaning job as a handyman at his grandparents' dance studio. Now happy in a steady relationship with Camille (Alyson Stoner), Moose pursues a career as an engineer but secretly longs to bust out his old moves. Upon learning about the Vortex, a televised dance contest where the first prize is a three year contract to perform in Las Vegas, Sean resolves to put together another dance crew. So Moose introduces him to his old friend Andy (Briana Evigan). Nursing an injury and a broken heart, Andie nevertheless happily quits her dead-end job as a costume designer to help assemble the ultimate crew for the ultimate dance-off.
The fifth film in the long-running dance franchise pairs the leads from Step Up 4: Miami Heat and Step Up 2: The Streets (2008) oddly without their original dance partner-cum-love-interests Chase (Robert Hoffman) and Emily (Kathryn McCormack) which is kind of a bummer for any fans invested in those relationships. Popular supporting players Adam G. Sevani and Alyson Stoner also return alongside fan favourites Jenny Kido (Mari Koda) and the Santiago Twins (Martin Lombard and Facundo Lombard) as part of yet another Dirty Dozen style crew of maverick dance specialists. New to the franchise Izabella Miko, a dab hand at this sort of thing since the heady days of Coyote Ugly (2000) and Save the Last Dance 2 (2006), steals the show camping it up as scheming Katy Perry/Lada Gaga-like pop princess Alexxa Brava whilst modelling some truly eye-popping outfits. Nevertheless Step Up: All In proved the lowest grossing entry yet suggesting the party is finally over. Choreographer turned director Trish Sie, famed for her award-winning television commercials and viral videos (most famously the 'treadmill dance' video for 'Here It Goes Again' performed by rock band OK Go fronted by her brother Damian Kulash) abandons all pretense at 'grittiness' established in Anne Fletcher's original Step Up (2006) for the closest thing Hollywood has to a Bollywood fantasy.
Las Vegas provides the glitzy backdrop for what is meant to be the ultimate dance off. Yet the first half of the film injects a note of pathos with poor Sean humiliatingly reduced to a performing monkey on the Hollywood treadmill, shaking his ass in a variety of dumb costumes or exposing his torso for lusty lady casting directors. It is surprisingly poignant to see how far he has fallen from the cocky young dance stud of Miami Heat. While most entries in the Step Up franchise are essentially rags to riches fables with a little romance thrown in, Step Up: All In scores minor points for acknowledging the harsh realities of dancer's life. It is all about picking yourself off the floor when your dreams crash and burn. Predictably John Swetnam's screenplay fails to develop this idea beyond the fairytale realm and resorts to the usual clichés.
While a tad more self-aware than earlier entries (at one point Moose wisecracks: "Does it always have to end up in a big dance battle?") all the same familiar script problems remain. Chiefly a threadbare plot and cheesy drama. The film is disappointingly swift in dispensing with the international teams competing in the Vortex to focus on the feud between Sean's new friends, his original crew and the dastardly Grim Knights. Yet the conflict between his desire to win at all costs and Andie's devotion to her 'family' proves less compelling than the sweetly supporting relationship between Camille and Moose who for true fans remain the heart and soul of the series. It is downright adorable to watch them mature as a couple. Once again, against the odds, the Step Up formula remains watchable. If nothing else arguing the importance of solid relationships over the shallow pursuit of fame is at least healthy. The camaraderie between the crew remains affecting even when the drama is not. Never mind the script, what about the dancing? Well, while the dancers themselves remain phenomenal to watch (e.g. an amusing mad scientist themed set-piece with Moose leading a bunch of sexy mock Frankenstein creations; Andy and Sean's fairground dance to Bobby Brown's 'Every Little Step' liable to delight Eighties nostalgists) the staging of the set-pieces falls short of the eye-popping imagination of series highlight Step Up 3D (2010). Even so the epic finale, involving flaming torches, dancers bursting out of a sand pit and Andie seemingly styling herself after Xena, Warrior Princess, proves worth the wait. If this is indeed the last dance for the Step Up crew at least the franchise went out when its feelgood vibe was still endearing.