Fighting a Losing 'Battle'

By Barker, Andrew | Variety, September 25, 2013 | Go to article overview

Fighting a Losing 'Battle'


Barker, Andrew, Variety


Fighting a Losing 'Battle'

Ostensibly concerned with reviving the art of b-boying, "Battle of the Year" proves far more effective as a feature-length testament to the wisdom of theater-hopping. Though it climaxes with a good quarter-hour of mind-boggling break moves that effortlessly deny the laws of both physics and anatomy, Benson Lee's dance pic is so fatally frontloaded with endless training montages, awfully written, indifferently acted drama, sports-film platitudes and jaw-dropping product placements that only the hardiest of viewers will make it through to the payoff. With the presence of Chris Brown promising to attract and repel audiences in equal measure, modest box office beckons.

"Battle of the Year" opens with a board meeting hosted by the Russell Simmons-like entrepreneur Dante Graham (Laz Alonso). A former breaker himself, Dante is determined to finance a top-level team for the international Battle of the Year b-boy tournament in Montpellier, France. Hoping to end a long dry spell for the Americans, Dante recruits dancer-turned-basketball coach-turned dissolute drunk and widower Jason Blake (Josh Holloway) to assemble a dream team of dancers and serve as coach.

Eventually culling more than a dozen ethnically diverse hotshots for his squad (played by a cadre of b-boys alongside wildly popular/reviled R&B star Brown), Blake hunkers the group down in an abandoned juvenile hall, with three months to whip them into shape. During the rare moments when they aren't training in split-screen montages, the assembled dancers engage in tough-guy spats, sit through motivational speeches, and endure reality-show-like weekly eliminations. Aided by a nebbishy assistant coach (Josh Peck, providing the only intentional laughs to be had), Blake eventually hires a foxy choreographer (Caity Lötz), who makes a splashy entrance and spends the rest of the film supplying reaction shots.

To catch up with the international explosion of b-boying, Blake consults "Planet B-Boy," an excellent 2008 documentary exploration of the tournament. Clips from that docu appear frequently throughout the film. It's worth mentioning that "Planet B-Boy" was also directed by Lee, who puzzlingly gives his old pic an "inspired by" credit. Yet these squicky salvos of self-promotion don't even register as the film's most eyebrow-raising advertorial indulgences. …

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