By every functional yardstick, Step Up 3D is a stupid movie. This is such an undeniable fact that the only debate worth having is on the precise modality of its stupidity: is it willfully stupid? criminally stupid? delightfully stupid? extravagantly stupid? Yes, yes, DEFINITELY YES, yes.

Part of me - nor a small part - loves Step Up 3D, for reasons that are entirely transparent: it is a Step Up movie in 3-D. A gaudy combination of things whose equal can hardly be imagin- oh, I see that they're making a Saw 3D. Well, for a few months at least, Step Up 3D will be the absolute last word in suffocating cinematic garishness, an idea born of rancid calculation and marinated in the sweat of desperate executives, and I adore it without a whisper of irony - it's the only one of the trilogy gauche enough to be amusing. We've hit a wall where the only damn good that the current three-year old 3-D fad can do is to throw a bunch of shit at the viewer, the filmmakers hoping to make up in extravagance what they lack in imagination, wit, or skill. And by God, shit comes at you without abandon in Step Up 3D. It is tacky beyond belief. And that very tackiness, so inept and flailing, accrues unto itself no small amount of seedy charm.

You may recall - though I pray you do not - that Step Up and the immaculately-named Step Up 2 The Streets both told very much the same story, in which a tough kid from the streets of Baltimore ends up in the prestigious Maryland School of the Arts, having demonstrated such undeniable talent at dancing that even the stuffy faculty have to admit the kid's brilliance. At the school, the kid meets a free-spirited dance student, and together they collaborate on a fusion of classical dance forms and the more urgent, improvised street dancing styles, while falling in love. The day is saved, even if you can't quite tell what was at stake. As I recall it, the biggest difference between the two is that the gender of the tough street kid switches from male to female in the sequel.

None of that for Step Up 3D, which takes a look at the relatively sedate Maryland School of the Arts + street kid with a chip on his/her shoulder formula, and concludes, thoughtfully, "No, it is time now to go bugfuck insane". Here, we find Moose (Adam G. Savani), annoyingly endearing side-character of SU2TS, at his very first day of class at NYU, there to study music, along with his bestest friend in the whole world, Camille (Alyson Stoner) - and if they're such good goddamn friends, maybe we should have seen them hanging out before, given that he was in the second movie and she was in the first. On the other hand, since the film can't decide if they "grew up together" or "met freshman year", it seems fair to cut the whole Step Up mytharc at least a tiny measure of slack.

No sooner does Moose promise his asshole parents that he's not going to keep dancing, than he gets involved in an impromptu dance battle right smack dab in the middle of NYU's campus. He wins, but in doing so incurs the wrath of the local dance crew known as The Samurai. Luckily, he also catches the attention of Luke (Rick Malambri), head of The Pirates, the Samurai's mortal enemies. Luke takes Moose under his wing, and on the younger man's first night - which he was supposed to spend with Camille, being freshman-oriented and all that - he is introduced to Luke's dead parents' multi-story dance club/post-industrial loft where the Pirates - a rag-tag bunch of multi-ethnic types, all the better to set off the lily-white Luke - practice for the upcoming World Jam, and the $100,000 grand prize that is all that stands between the House of Pirates and foreclosure.

Yes, it's just swapping on archaic cliché (the poor kid in the ritzy school) for another (let's put on a show and save the farm!), but Step Up 3D makes up for it by existing in some kind of psychotropic fantasy world that has no relationship whatsoever to human existence. Moose's introduction to the loft is like a vision out of a Tarsem Singh or Baz Luhrmann movie, all kaleidoscopic impossibilities of blatantly production-designed spaces ("this is our wall of boomboxes"; "this is the room with the pit of foam blocks"; "this is the space in which there are vertical pink neon tubes"), and as lustfully captured in 3-D, it's so fucking loopy that you'd need to have a heart of flint not to be carried away.

And that's even before the actual plot kicks in, which involves the pretty dancer Natalie (Sharni Vinson), who has been the object of Luke's affection for some time, though he does not know her name. In no time at all, she too has been welcomed into the familial warmth of the House of Pirates, except, in a staggeringly unpredictable twist, her brother Julien (Joe Slaughter) is the leader of the Samurai! Zounds! Whatever will happen? Surely not an angry confrontation that leads to Natalie's expulsion, only to end in a face-to-face dance battle between the Pirates and the Samurai that can only be won for the Pirates when Natalie jumps on stage and defies her brother! Also, Moose and Camille have a falling-out that is only fixed when he weakly copies some Fred Astaire moves from Roberta, but nobody really gives a shit about Moose and Camille.

All of this would be unbearably dumb in a normal movie, like Step Up, and as a matter of fact, the middle of Step Up 3D sags horribly, at exactly the part that it is the most plotty and the least dancey. Luckily, it's not really a normal movie at all, but a 3-D movie, and desperately anxious to remind us of that fact. The dances are clumsily framed (though not, it must be said, clumsily choreographed) to maximise shots of the dancers propelling their arms or legs right at the camera, and that's to say nothing of the exuberant trashiness of scenes such as when Luke shows Natalie how to dribble your slurpee over a subway exhaust vent, so that the little neon-colored ice blobs go floating up into the sky like high-fructose fireflies (right into the camera lens, naturally). And the weird fantasy world of the loft-club needs no 3-D to be deliriously trashy; it just needs a pronounced lack of shame, which thankfully, director Jon Chu possesses in abundance. Or rather, does not possess. That is- aw, hell, he's a damn whore, and it's magnificent that he is.

I'm aware that I've just written over 1000 words that amount to, "this movie is SO DUMB, you have to see it!", but what the hell, it showed me a more genuinely fun time than just about anything I've seen this summer. Because dammit, the film's unabashed idiocy is endearing - for sheer writerly incompetence, nothing has made me happier in months than the line, "Luke, you have to grow up and face the real world. The Samurai will stop at nothing to win!", delivered with all earnestness - and gaudy excess has its own kind of genuinely appealing honesty, that all the slick coolness of "good" moviemaking can't touch with a 10-foot pole. A pole THAT IS WIGGLING AROUND IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE ZOMG 3-D!

6/10