Director: Benson Lee
Writers: Brin Hill and Chris Parker
Cast: Laz Alonso, Joshua Lee Milky Ayers, Chris Brown, Jesse Casper Brown, Anis Cheurfa, Kid David, Jon Do Knock Cruz, Josh Holloway, Victor Kim, Caity Lotz, Richard Maguire, Josh Peck, Luis Rosado, Steve Terada, Ivan Flipz Velez, and Sawandi Wilson
Ever since Step Up 3D took the world by storm in 2010, Hollywood producers have assaulted us with the likes of Go for It (2011) and Street Dance 2 (2012), hoping to reproduce its perfect blend of cheese and spectacle. So far, all have failed, including the bigwigs behind Step Up Revolution (2012), and I’m starting to wonder whether filmmakers aren’t over thinking it a bit. Take, for instance, Battle of the Year, which follows a b-boy crew on its way to a world break-dancing competition. Director Benson Lee tries so hard to wow us with death-defying power moves that he forgets to put in some actual dance.
I’m being presumptuous. For all I know, the omission was intended. After all, screenwriters Brin Hill and Chris Parker go out of their way to make Battle of the Year an inspiring sport drama rather than a dance flick. You’ve got the grieving, alcoholic coach in need of a second chance (Josh Holloway), the pathologically vocal coach who doesn’t approve of his methods (Chris Brown), the ragtag team of hotheads in need of discipline, and a whole mess of coming-of-age clichés, each handled with all the tact of a lawnmower in a bonsai garden.
Take, for example, the introduction of Stacy (Caity Lotz), a hip-hop choreographer whom the coach initially rejects because she’s of, gasp, the female persuasion! First off, when did dance of all things become an activity in which only guys partake? Second, what are the chances of there not being a single b-girl in the team or, for that matter, the entire “Battle of the Year” competition? Naturally, the American crew members sexually harass the woman because, you know, that’s what you do, but she resolves the matter by stating that she likes men, not boys.
I suppose that makes as much sense as our open-minded coach resolving his assistant’s racial insecurities by shrugging in agreement when the boy tells him “Jews are rhythmically challenged”. Truth be told, I rather like young Franklyn, whom Josh Peck portrays as a timid soul in perpetual wonderment, as if the character had resigned to witness greatness rather than reach for it himself. In fact, the whole cast of Battle of the Year does its best with a screenplay that might as well have been printed on a block of corn and then dipped in Cheese Whiz.
I especially don’t envy Josh Holloway, who has to deliver lines like, “Settle it with dance!” as if pearls of wisdom were dripping from his lips. Also consider his character’s justification for recruiting an untested all-star team instead of using the experienced dance crew already on payroll: “The USA revolutionised basketball at the Olympics by pulling players from all over the country, like Barkley and Jordan!” Uh, no, the USA gained an unfair advantage at the Olympics by registering professionals in an amateur competition, essentially taking a giant dump on the notions of sportsmanship and world unity.
Mind you, I’m not sure Battle of the Year understands either of these concepts, what with the characters constantly bemoaning the fact that break-dancing has gained momentum in far-off nations like France, Germany, and South Korea. You’d figure American dancers would want to celebrate their art’s worldwide appeal, but all they talk about is taking back what’s theirs. Even the pathologically vocal manager, Dante, shares this xenophobia: “International sales are exceeding domestic sales, which means we’re in trouble!” Apparently, he doesn’t realise six and a half continents represent a larger, more lucrative market than just one country.
I could look past all these clunky plot details if Battle of the Year featured breathtaking musical numbers. Unfortunately, Lee focuses exclusively on the athletic aspect of break-dancing, stringing together the most impressive tricks without so much as a beat, save for the occasional twang from an unrelated dramatic score. For this too, Coach Blake provides an explanation: “Is b-boying an art or a sport? Can’t it be both? Basketball is a sport, but, when Michael Jordan throws that ball into the net, he turns it into an art.” What our hero seems to neglect here is that hardcore Jordan fans would likely reject an obscure proto-Cubist painting the same way moviegoers who paid to see a dance show might not appreciate a subpar sport flick.