Battle of the Year: Picking up the pieces
Film about break dancers is actually slightly better than you might expect
Posted: October 23, 2013
A film only a company could love. The shameless product placement in 'Battle of the Year' reaches its absolute nadir in the climactic finale.
As far as dance movies go, Battle of the Year is probably one of the best in its field to come along in a while, pulling out all the stops yet never overplaying its hand. This is an unexpected surprise, as the dance movies reviewed by this paper in the past two years, from StreetDance 3D to Step Up Revolution have ranged from mediocre to dire. Two weeks ago, this reviewer went to a press screening of another dance-centric film, titled Make Your Move, but had to leave long before the halfway mark because it was so unbelievably bad.
Battle of the Year has received scathing reviews stateside, with most reviewers homing in on the mediocre plot. At present, review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes has the film at 5 percent. That would suggest it is miserable on almost every level, but I don't think anyone goes to a dance film expecting it to be anything but middling at best. There are countless examples of bad storytelling, weak characterization and insipid choreography to be found here, but at least most of the people don't sound like are being fed their lines through an earpiece, which is usually the case in these animated assaults on the art form.
The story is all about the importance of team. Everyone needs to know their role and their place; everyone must support each other and never chase the limelight. At one point, when the coach, who is assigned the job of teaching a bunch of very individualistic, self-righteous break dancers (also known as b-boys) to work together, refers to their craft as a sport, they balk at the idea they are sportsmen rather than artists. The coach, who has faced some personal tragedy and has apparently reflected on the meaning of life, says Michael Jordan is a sportsman yet what he does with the sport makes it into an art form. And just like that, they are convinced.
This coach, who used to teach basketball, is called Jason (Josh Holloway), and he learns all about b-boying during one night watching 100 hours of footage. So much is wrong with that sentence there is not enough time to unpack all its flaws, but somehow the morning after, Jason is an expert and tells Dante, a head honcho in the b-boy world, he will create a new Dream Team to take on the world champions, South Korea.
Directed by Benson Lee
With Josh Holloway, Josh Peck, Luis Rosado, Chris Brown
Dante is funding the entire operation out of his own pocket, but he will barely have any contact with the team until they all fly across the Atlantic to compete in France. The reason for this seems to be that he has unshakable faith in Jason, even though they hadn't talked in almost two years prior to the beginning of this story.
But before we go any further, let's just remind ourselves what Jason's qualifications are to train the so-called Dream Team of break dancers: He used to be one of Dante's best friends. He used to be a successful basketball coach. He used to have a family. He used to be sober.
He is currently defined by his lack of any of those qualities, but even though he doesn't even know the most basic of moves or championship titles in this new sport (sorry, art form, or art sport, or whatever), the expectation is somehow that he will teach the dancers to form a team so good it will end the United States' 15-year losing streak at the international championship.
Luckily for him, he has an assistant, a boy named Franklyn (he keeps introducing himself as "Franklyn with a 'y'" for no other reason than to make us wonder if he is all right in the head; it works) who knows everything there is to know about b-boying, but he doesn't dance. He says he doesn't have rhythm because he is Jewish. Even if we take him at his word, why doesn't Jason dance, either? Is he Jewish, too?
There are many questions to be asked about the film's logic, but let's not waste too much time on that. It's not overly distracting as much as it is an expected part of the mediocre firmament of the dance-film genre.
What is distracting is the product placement, as when some brands and their items are mentioned in an unmistakable nod to the companies' financial or material support of the film. No products will be named in this review, but Sony is the big culprit, and every time one of its items is named, we leave the world of the story.
Battle of the Year does not in any way try to show off with its camera work, which is a good thing, as the moves should speak for themselves. That is not always the case, and neither do we get any insight into the supposed stories their gyrations are supposed to convey. Often, their moves (especially those of one of the top dancers, played by acclaimed singer and sometime felon Chris Brown) seem rather simple, especially when these particular individuals have been praised for their talent.
There are many problems with this film's storytelling, and besides the self-promotion of director Benson Lee's own documentary about the world of b-boying, Planet B-Boy, and the flagrant product placement, the plot itself is very simple, and we never warm to the coach or his back story because we see no development.
However, if you go in with very lox expectations, or you have seen recent examples of how bad the genre tends to be, you may just end up staying in your seat. For these kinds of movies, that is something of a plus.
André Crous can be reached at