"STEP UP" — ** — Channing Tatum, Jenna Dewan, Rachel Griffiths; rated PG-13 (violence, profanity, vulgarity, nude artwork).Some of the dance moves shown off in "Step Up" are fresh and original. The film's story itself is not.

In fact, the plot is every bit as by-the-numbers and predictable as you might expect. And it keeps getting in the way of the dancing, causing crucial stumbles and slips that this drama just can't afford.

Still, it's not the worst recent example of such material (that would be 2004's "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights"). But it's so silly that if often makes the recent, somewhat problematic "Take the Lead" look considerably better by comparison.

Up-and-comer Channing Tatum ("She's the Man") stars as Tyler Gage, a Baltimore ne'er-do-well with some pretty flashy dancing skills. Unfortunately, he's caught vandalizing an arts school. So he's sentenced to hundreds of hours of community service there, helping the custodial staff clean up the place.

Tyler is instantly attracted to one of the students, Nora (Jenna Dewan). And as fate would have it, her dance partner (Tim Lacatena) is injured just weeks before they're supposed to perform their senior project. So the desperate Nora turns to Tyler for help.

You can pretty much guess where the story goes from there. Screenwriters Duane Adler and Melissa Rosenberg pad out this paper-thin material with subplots about two of Tyler's troubled friends (Damaine Radcliff and De'Shawn Washington), as well as the romance between two of Nora's classmates (Drew Sidora and Chris Rock lookalike Mario).

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But unless the camera is helping them fake it, Tatum and Dewan ("Take the Lead") do much of their characters' dancing, and both are fresh-faced and appealing.

Still, shame on choreographer-turned-filmmaker Anne Fletcher for wasting the talented Rachel Griffiths (HBO's "Six Feet Under") in a thankless supporting role as the school's administrator.

"Step Up" is rated PG-13 for violence (vandalism, a scuffle and a shooting), scattered use of profanity and crude slang, suggestive dance routines, and glimpses of nude artwork (sculptures). Running time: 98 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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