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Battle of the Year: Film Review

8:59 PM PDT 9/19/2013 by Frank Scheck

The Bottom Line

The young dancers' undeniable skill and athleticism is squandered in this formulaic, overly familiar dance movie.

Opens

Sept. 20 (Screen Gems)

Director

Benson Lee

Cast

Josh Holloway, Laz Alonso, Josh Peck, Caity Lotz, Chris Brown

An American team competes in the titular break-dancing competition in this film inspired by the documentary "Planet B-Boy."

Stock characters and a formulaic plotline are the main elements of Benson Lee's feature film inspired by his documentary Planet B-Boy about an annual break-dancing competition. Battle of the Year seems designed to capitalize on the success of the highly successful Step Up series of dance movies, but it lacks those films' sexy, glossy appeal. While the presence of best-selling recording artist Chris Brown in a leading role should attract teenage femmes, the film has an overly familiar quality that should prevent it from breakout success.

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Josh Holloway, in his first big-screen starring role since his breakout turn on ABC's Lost, plays the central role of Jason Blake, an embittered and alcoholic former basketball coach still grieving over the loss of his wife and teenage son in an automobile accident. Although he would seem to be last person one would choose to motivate tough kids, he's tapped by his hip-hop mogul pal Dante (Laz Alonso) to coach a team of b-boys ambitiously dubbed the "dream team" as they prepare for the titular premier competition held in Montpellier, France.

Will the emotionally impassive Blake sufficiently overcome his personal demons to whip his ragtag team into shape? Will the undisciplined kids learn to overcome their personal differences and form a cohesive unit? These are not the burning issues of the film, which not surprisingly devotes much of its screen time to footage of the dancers going through their strenuously athletic paces.

Blake -- whose method of coaching mainly consists of glowering, browbeating his dancers, and uttering banalities like "Time to shine, gentlemen" -- is a wholly uninteresting character despite his frequent dramatic tippling from the flask he keeps ever handy. Some comic relief is provided in the form of his wisecracking assistant coach, Franklyn (Josh Peck), who claims, "I might be Jewish, but my religion is hip-hop." Such plot elements as the feud between two of the dancers (Jon Cruz and Brown, the latter not exactly cast against type as a hothead prone to fights) add little to the proceedings.

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The screenplay by Brin Hill and Chris Parker does have a few interesting touches, such as a brief discussion over whether what the b-boys do is a dance or a sport. Most surprisingly, it fails to introduce a romantic subplot involving Blake and Stacy (an underused Caity Lotz), the sexy female choreographer hired to whip the boys into shape.

As is usually the case with contemporary dance movies, the undeniable skill of the real life b-boy performers (as well as Brown, who pulls off some impressive moves) is shortchanged by the rapid-fire editing, which reduces their routines into brief, often visually incoherent snippets. Neither the negligible 3D conversion nor the director's overuse of multiple split screens have the effect of making the extended sequences visually appealing.

Proceeding across predictable lines -- Blake dramatically forgoes his drinking, one of the main characters is injured right before the main event, etc. -- the film culminates in the dramatic competition in which the American dream team faces off against a group of South Koreans. The results set the stage for the inevitable hoped-for sequel.  

Production: Contrafilm
Cast: Josh Holloway, Laz Alonso, Josh Peck, Caity Lotz, Chris Brown
Director: Benson Lee
Screenwriters: Brin Hill, Chris Parker
Producers: Beau Flynn, Tripp Vinson, Amy Lo
Executive producers: Will Packer, Glenn S. Gainor, Rich + Tone Talaeuga
Director of photography: Michael Barrett
Production designer: Chris Cornwell
Editor: Peter S. Elliot
Costume designer: Soyon An
Music: Christopher Lennertz

Rated PG-13, 109 minutes