'Battle of the Year'
Director: Benson Lee
Stars: Josh Holloway, Laz Alonso
1 Globe (out of 5)
The new cinematic danceathon “Battle of the Year” finally explains why Chris Brown was rocking bleach-blonde hair a while back, looking like he was about to star in a VH1 biopic on Sisqo. Alas, he was shooting this film — when he had the chance to, that is. Considering how he’s obviously spliced into several scenes, not to mention his significance in the film’s climax, it seems like the movie mostly worked around HIS schedule.
Brown plays the aptly nicknamed Rooster, a cocky punk who gets recruited to join a dream team of American b-boy dancers. This crew gets assembled when Dante (Laz Alonso), a former b-boy turned some sort of hip-hop impresario (it’s never explained what the dude exactly does for a living), wants a winning, stateside b-boy team to compete in the titular international dance competition in Paris, which is usually won by superhuman Koreans.
Enter Jason Blake (Josh Holloway), one of Dante’s former b-boy partners. Dante shows up at his doorstep trying to get Blake, who has been in a drunken stupor ever since losing his wife and son in a car accident, to coach the team. Blake reluctantly agrees and, with the help of Franklyn (Josh Peck), one of Dante’s b-boy-savvy employees, devises a plan: Get the best dancers from each city and put them through a grueling boot camp to see which ones can put their egos in check and work as a team.
And this is where Brown and the rest come in. Since Brown is the team's most recognizable face, his character is the most memorable — even though there’s not much of a character there. (There’s also not much of a performance there either, as Brown’s idea of acting is to just be innately bratty for most of the picture, then get shockingly humble near the end.) Then again, all the characters are just a textbook-ragtag collection of archetypal polar opposites who will eventually learn to put their differences aside and become a well-oiled blah blah blah.
"Battle" plays like an ultra-cliched, 3-D-enhanced, ghettofied version of the hockey movie “Miracle,” with Holloway’s stubborn but dedicated coach teaching these boys teamwork and patriotism when they’re not jumping and flying all over the place like would-be Jet Lis. The plot itself is merely filler; the real meat is the dance sequences, which director/b-boy documentarian Benson Lee stages as highly charged bits of agile, rhythmic hysteria. (The climactic battle scenes alone look more like energized capoeira routines.) Until those moments happen, you have to sit through badly lit scenes full of forced, incessant reaction shots and rampant product placement. Seriously, this movie had to have been co-financed by Puma sneakers.
As much as it wants to show how b-boy dancing has became a global phenomenon, “Battle of the Year” is, next to last year’s gawdawful "Red Dawn" remake, yet another grating, wrongheaded movie experience where Josh Peck and a bunch of youngsters throw down against villainous Koreans.