All that glitters may not be gold, but whatever it is, it’s sure to be found somewhere in “Any Body Can Dance 2,” the insanely exuberant sequel to 2013’s Bollywood/hip-hop 3D dance extravaganza that handily trumps that film’s quotient of day-glo colors, tsunamis of sweat/feathers/confetti/sequins, and acrobatic footwork that scoffs at gravity the way a pubescent teen does at an overprotective parent. There’s nothing new under the stage lights here, in a competition/redemption narrative that seems to have been spat out by a screenplay bot after being fed copies of “Step Up,” “Magic Mike” and “Stand and Deliver”; but especially during its first half, the movie’s onscreen gyrations will brook no dissent. Few sequels are so keenly aware of exactly who their target audience is and what they want, which should ensure that this Disney/UTV Studios production shatters its predecessor’s $7 million worldwide gross.
In one of many examples of writer/director/choreographer Remo D’Souza and co-screenwriter Tushar Hiranandani cheerfully tossing narrative logic to the wind, “ABCD 2” reunites several key cast members from the 2013 film, but only has one of them — actor/choreographer Prabhudheva’s Miyagi-like dance guru Vishnu — playing the same character. But then, the dance is the thing in these movies, and “ABCD 2” has plenty to offer, starting with a title sequence of blacklit performers in neon body suits leaping out of the screen in dynamic freeze-frame compositions (think “Tron: The Musical”). We are, as at the start of the first “ABCD” film, watching the competitors on a “So You Think You Can Dance?”-style reality show (called “Hum Kisise Kum Nahi”). But no sooner have the aptly-named Mumbai Stunners received a thunderous standing ovation than they are disqualified by the judges for allegedly lifting their entire act from a champion Filipino dance team. Thus, from stunning to merely stunned.
The troupe — including lead dancers/choreographers Suresh (Varun Dhawan) and Vernon (Sushant Pujari), and lone female dancer Vinnie (Shraddha Kapoor) — retreat to their service-industry day jobs (waiter, pizza deliveryman, hairstylist), where they are persistently mocked by their customers for being “cheaters.” For Suresh, the brooding, bicep-bulging, Channing Tatum-type, shame is an especially bitter pill, given that his mother (Prachi Shah) was a celebrated dancer who “died with her anklets on” (and, periodically, appears to Suresh in sepia-toned dream sequences). Enter Vishnu, last seen transforming the first film’s rag-tag band of hoofers into champions, now all washed up again (for reasons the movie can’t be bothered to explain). He’s a coach in need of a team, and Suresh is sure he has just the right team for him — if only he can shake Vishnu from the drunken stupor he sinks into nightly at a popular Mumbai watering hole. Vishnu’s love of the bottle gives rise to the film’s most impressive musical number, “Happy Hour” (one of 10 tracks by returning songwriters Sachin Sanghvi and Jigar Saraiya, and lyricist Mayur Puri), in which the tipsy professor and his fellow barflies sway to and fro in a choreography that evokes the “Smooth Criminal” number from Michael Jackson’s “Moonwalker” feature — the first of several direct and indirect nods to the late King of Pop.
At first, all of Suresh’s impassioned pleading falls on deaf ears, Vishnu being all too aware of his prospective pupils’ tainted past. But soon enough, he changes his mind, and begins training the Stunners for the world hip-hop championship in (where else?) Las Vegas. First, though, they must increase their ranks — a plot device that allows “ABCD 2” to indulge in that beloved dance-movie cliche of the open audition full of overly self-confident galumphs who dance the way William Hung sings. At least two diamonds do emerge from that rough, in the form of policeman’s son Dharmesh (Dharmesh Yelande, an “ABCD” alum) and deaf-mute Vinod (the excellent Punit Pathak, who played the recovering drug addict Chandu in the previous film), who “feels” the music he can’t hear — and, for good, melodramatic measure, suffers from an unexplained tubercular cough that comes home to roost at the most inopportune moment. Then again, such is the movie’s outre, anything-goes spirit that, were an alien race to descend from the skies and join our characters in toe-tapping harmony, one would scarcely bat an eye.
While the first “ABCD” certainly didn’t lack for gaudy high style, for the sequel D’Souza and cinematographer Vijay Kumar Arora have ratcheted things up to positively orgiastic levels — never more than in the pre-intermission show-stopper that finds the Stunners taking to the stage of the Indian hip-hop nationals in Bangalore. At one point, a dancer in mid-backflip delivers a perfectly timed high-kick to an overhead fire sprinkler, dousing the stage in a downpour that makes the rainstorm from “Singin’ in the Rain” look like a mere drizzle, each droplet shimmering in three dimensions as if they were tears from the gods. Somewhere, Baz Luhrmann is eating his heart out.
Where can “ABCD 2” reasonably (or unreasonably) go from there? Why, to Vegas, of course, though after the build-up of the first 70 minutes, Sin City seems almost placid by comparison. D’Souza stages some modestly amusing slapstick hijinks involving meddlesome Customs officials at McCarran airport, before trotting out the obligatory tourist panoramas of Fremont Street and the Strip, and of the Stunners gazing slack-jawed at their opulent penthouse hotel suite. Meanwhile, the heretofore benevolent Vishnu skulks around mysteriously, harboring some ulterior plan that, when finally revealed, sends the film spinning into soap-opera melodrama. Other assorted complications (including a last-minute performer injury; a furtive romantic triangle; and a rumble with the German national team, risibly portrayed as a bunch of racist bullies) are resolved almost as quickly as they arise. Even by the leisurely standards of Bollywood pacing (the movie clocks in at 152 minutes), there’s some considerable foot-dragging here, and things don’t really get back on track until the big competition finale — which begins not at the finals or even the semi-finals, but rather the quarter-finals round.
Well, if you haven’t come to see lots (and lots) of dance, you’ve come to the wrong place; and even if nothing in the second half of “ABCD 2” quite reaches “Happy Hour” levels, D’Souza shoots and edits dance with a lot more savoir faire than most contemporary musical directors, mindful to keep the dancers’ entire bodies in frame, and cutting with a strong sense of spatial continuity. He even tips his hat to Bollywood’s longstanding love affair with exotic landscapes by staging one romantic pas de deux (the mostly English-language “If You Hold My Hand”) against the sweeping crevasses of the Grand Canyon. Watching this movie won’t make you smarter, but it just might, more than most, leave you feeling happier than you were when you walked in.