“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” seems to be the motto of “Honey 2,” Bille Woodruff’s belated follow-up to his 2003 dance pic. Whereas that Jessica Alba vehicle focused on an individual striving to be a musicvideo choreographer, this sequel follows the popular dance-crew-battles-adversaries-for-fame-and-glory recipe familiar from the recent “Step Up” movies and Blighty’s “StreetDance 3D.” Whether this defiantly unoriginal formula can still hit the audience sweet spot will become more apparent based on pic’s performance in U.K. multiplexes ahead of its domestic rollout in August.
Scribes Blayne Weaver and Alyson Fouse don’t stray far from established models. In “Step Up 2 the Streets,” the orphaned heroine was a member of a street-dance crew called the 410 and was forced to clean up her act by attending the local dance school. In “Honey 2,” 17-year-old orphan Maria (Katerina Graham, “The Vampire Diaries”) dances with the 718 until her misdemeanors land her a spell in juvie.
Maria is paroled into the care of foster parent Connie Daniels (Lonette McKee), mother of the original film’s protagonist, Honey, and the present caretaker of her departed offspring’s dance studio in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. While Maria toils there as janitor (shades of the first “Step Up”), she collides with dance crew the HDs; inevitably, they must go up against the 718 on TV talent show “Battle Zone,” which offers a cash prize and the promise of a professional choreography engagement for Maria.
Providing requisite adversarial duties is Maria’s ne’er-do-well b.f., Luis (Christopher Martinez), who was responsible for her incarceration and who leads the 718. Not without charm, Luis slowly erodes Maria’s hostility, before a selfish act nearly lands the parolee back in prison.
While the original “Honey” took a more character-driven route through dance territory, the sequel shoehorns in as many choreographed setpieces as the rickety storyline can accommodate. Over the course of its 111-minute running time, pic finds room for Maria’s new love interest, Brandon (blandly handsome Randy Wayne), a privileged college student whose exam inevitably clashes with a crucial audition. Other HDs include feisty cousins Tina (Seychelle Gabriel) and Lyric (Brittany Perry-Russell); good-natured Carla (Melissa Molinaro); and comic-relief buddies Darnell (Tyler Nelson) and Ricky (Beau Smart).
Pic savvily appoints Mario Lopez, real-life host of MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew,” to an identical role on “Battle Zone,” and for good measure throws in Audrina Patridge (“The Hills”), barely adequate in her thin role as a judge on the fictional talent show. Faring better as fellow judges are Laurieann Gibson and Rosero McCoy, the choreographers of “Honey” and “Honey 2,” respectively.
While Cynthia Ann Summers’ streetwear-oriented wardrobe choices and music supervisor Tricia Holloway’s dance cuts will be the most noticeable elements to the target audience, all tech credits are more than serviceable; Paul Millspaugh’s freeze-frame editing during dance sequences reps an obvious but effective trick. Woodruff explores a broader range of techniques in a montage in which Brandon and Maria roam around Gotham, taking inspiration from ballet dancers, mime artists, breakdancers, voguers and tangoing couples (“We’ve been dipped in culture!”). Segment might prove a lyrical highlight for moms accompanying offspring, but a harder sell for eye-rolling tweens.
While domestic grosses for the three “Step Up” movies have gradually dipped, fast-escalating international grosses have seen worldwide cumes rise from $99 million to $143 million to $161 million. Any of those numbers would be sweet, sweet music to the ears of Universal, the studio backing this latest opportunistic rehash.