Battle of the Year, Review

Battle of the Year is a jingoistic breakdance movie that is still somehow no break from the idiocy associated with modern dance films.

Before Battle of the Year, there was 2007’s Planet B-Boy, a documentary that spoke of the international appeal of breakdancing, and thereby providing international evidence that countries outside of America have embraced hip-hop and its dance moves as their own type of athletic, artistic expression. I mention that documentary because it has now inspired yet another junky dance movie, Battle of the Year (directed by the same guy, Benson Lee), which turns the notion of expressing an art form of universal language into a Red Dawn-like crusade to take dancing back from other countries; back to the US of A. Oorah. Even in the movie’s plot, this whole operation is not inspired primarily by the need to house talented but financially struggling dancers, but to make sure that hip-hop music stays relevant to American youth, remaining a viable stateside business (or going even deeper, so that producers can still make dumb and flashy dance movies). Record executive Dante (Laz Alonso) pitches to his company that they should sponsor a B-Boy team so that stateside kids will think B-Boy dancing is cool again, but also because he has an even deeper concern: “How long before hip-hop isn’t cool?” To save the world from not having America as its main hip-hop homeland, Dante hires an old dance buddy-turned-bummed-out-basketball-coach named Jason (Josh Hollway) who is holed up in his own misery as a cliché burned out by the loss of his wife and child. After showing Jason Planet B-Boy on Netflix (the narrative adaptation whores out its own source!), the coach decides to assemble America’s best dance crew of B-Boy performers but of course, on his own terms. His assistant coach is Franklyn (Josh Peck, who starred in Red Dawn), a hip-hop lover impeded only by his natural lack of rhythm. As the character states, he cannot be a B-Boy because he’s Jewish. 


Picking from a national competition that conveniently happens the following week, Jason assembles his group of dancing misfits (including Chris Brown) and trains them in a secluded facility that is also a former juvenile detention center. From here, with the help of choreographer Stacy (who disses to the horny boys by saying, “I’m not into boys, I’m into men”), Jason trains the group to prepare for B-Boy competition Battle of the Year in France, teaching them that there is no “I” in team. If they even say the declaration “I,” everyone does a hundred pushups. Push comes to shove, hip comes to hop, and America’s “Dream Team” are battling the “Seoul Assassins” in the title competition, where they also hope to convince to the world that they are not “ugly Americans.”

Populated with numerous professional dancers who are not actors and professional actors who are not dancers, the acting quality between the two is interchangeable but unmistakably low (as embodied by Chris Brown, who is both, but sucks at everything). At least the real B-Boys, many of them with credits in at least one Step Up movie or even a forgettable gag in Meet the Spartans, can showcase their professional abilities with certainty. Charisma is still an absent factor for them as individuals, as the minimal amount of time for character development means that they must be identified by their demographic.

 Battle of the Year’s centerpiece of handsome young men throwing themselves in the air and spinning on the ground is best enjoyed whenever Lee is kind enough to give us a non-sliced-up wide shot of the action. Such thrills only come in little doses, as dancing is often shown in split-screen with other plot movements simultaneously going on in other boxes. Or during the big competition, it’s taken as an editing free-for-all in which the heavily choreographed dance moves may not be mush, but the lack of visual focus complementing the dancing tries to say otherwise.  Yet another bad dance movie, Battle of the Year is a reminder as to why there still has not been a great movie about modern dance (or at least an American mainstream one, if you want to consider Fish Tank by Andrea Arnold). This is despite the many attempts by films that range from the actually-not-terrible Step Up flicks to the extremely terrible You Got Served. With this film’s constant shaving product placement offering a nagging reminder (not to mention the story’s entire influence for assembling the “Dream Team”), these types of mainstream movies are constantly clouded up by commercial inclinations, by producers who see dancing as a means to reach out to (or exploit) a culture they consider to be a fad. Battle of the Year itself is a project adapted from the success of a former film, about an entire lifestyle, its scope comparatively narrowed (although you can see the impressive dance moves from other countries if you stay through the credits). On top of this, there’s the difficulty in creating tension with dance battles, as every competitor seems to share the same top-notch physical condition, along with the ability to defy gravity. Compare that to the more palpable thrill of boxing, then, in which a right hook to Rocky’s jaw earns a very visible effect in both the fighter’s ability to further perform, and also on their physical appearance. The battles in this dance film are indeed impressive collections of flips, spins and jumps, but where is the excitement in a competition when we have to wait for a film’s scoreboard to tell us who actually did better? Of course, also there’s the obvious notion that no one seems to think modern dance movies warrant a script not made from clichés, but that is the least of this flashy but dumb subgenre’s setbacks. “Breakdancing has evolved,” touts the catchphrase of Planet B-Boy. But certainly with the case of its narrative adaptation, the same cannot be said for the modern dance movie.

Den of Geek Rating: 1 out of 5 Stars

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1 out of 5