Battle of the Year (2013) / Drama-Action
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language and some rude behavior
Running Time: 110 min.
Cast: Josh Holloway, Laz Alonso, Josh Peck, Caity Lotz, Chris Brown, Ivan 'Flipz' Velez, Jon 'Do Knock' Cruz, Anis Cheurfa, Jesse 'Casper' Brown
Director: Benson Lee
Screenplay: Brin Hill, Chris Parker (based on the documentary, Planet B-Boy)
Review published October 5, 2013
Battle of the Year is a by-the-numbers competition film, which means it spotlights an underdog having to overcome adversity in order to ultimately become the best. if you've seen a sports flick or two in your lifetime, you'll know the formula well, including all of the clichés, tropes, and contrivances that they're known for, with the only difference among them being the nature of the contest. In this film, the nature of the contest is b-boying, aka breakdancing. Benson Lee (Miss Monday) directs this fictional piece, inspired by his own documentary on the subject, Planet B-Boy.
The plot involves an annual contest called 'Battle of the Year', in which dance crews from several countries get together and compete for the grand prize. The United States has been in a drought for many years, which is a badge of shame, considering that b-boyism originated in America -- and that's something hip-hop record company mogul Dante Graham (Alonso, Avatar) cannot stand any longer. He intends to get the trophy back to its roots, and to do that, he recruits an old friend, Jason Blake (Holloway, MI4), a former hotshot basketball coach whose life is now on the skids with the loss of his wife and child in a car accident. Blake knows nothing about dancing, but Blake has a choreographer for that; what he needs is someone to pull together a team and get them to click.
The only hook to the film is that we get to see some incredible breakdancing performed by some of the most agile, talented dancers in the business. What's left is a lot of macho posturing and manufactured moments of drama. Most of the film deals with the winnowing down of the contestants vying for a chance to get on the U.S. 'Dream Team', and each character has about one discernable trait to distinguish him from any of the others (one is gay, one is poor, etc.) Most of them are pretty annoying, though none more so than Franklyn ("with a 'Y'"!!), Graham's employee turned assistant coach (Peck, Ice Age 2) who insists he can't breakdance because he is 'too Jewish', despite the so-called 'best b-boys in the nation' consisting of mainly Caucasian talent (including Jewish), as well as their choreographer.
But even with the dancing as the showcase, Battle is a frustration. Almost none of the moves are shown beginning to end, and most of the routines are merely a montage of snippets of the highlights. And strobed-out snippets at that. These dancers might look spectacular for 1.5 seconds, but how would they do taking the stage for a whole song? Or even just for a 15-second take? We never find out the true level of their talent.
Josh Holloway, who looked like he might convert his star turn on TV's "LOST" into a potential crossover movie career, delivers stock lines as if he lacks any real passion for the material, and who can blame him? Despite his claim that he was a good b-boy back in the day, his interest and experience with the material is probably even less than the neophyte character he portrays, with both are just doing it for a paycheck. One could read that the lack of passion he displays comes from the fact that his character is still in mourning, but more likely, Holloway is drawing his anguish from the realization that his career is reduced to starring in vehicles that don't even offer a tenth of the dramatic range as a recurring role on a TV show.
Unless you're just fired up to see a lot of electric dancing, or just have a crush on one or more of the athletic stars, Battle of the Year is the kind of movie you could almost rightfully say you've seen without actually having to sit through it. It plays exactly the way you'd expect, hitting predictable beats at predetermined intervals, just like one of the specialized moves in the dance choreography within. The only trouble is, seeing a film nail moves that a hundred similar films have done before doesn't constitute anything special, so if you're just jonesing to see some breakdancing, why not stick to Planet B-boy to get all the right moves without the headache-inducing overhead of bad drama to go with it. Unless you're an undiscriminating fan of trendy dance flicks, or just enjoy snickering through unintentionally awful movies, Battle of the Year fails to nail enough steps to earn the right to perform on the big stage.
©2013 Vince Leo