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"BATTLE OF THE YEAR"
(2013) (Josh Holloway, Chris Brown) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A washed-up former coach is hired to assemble an all-star team of American b-boy dancers to compete in an international competition and bring the trophy back home to the country where the craze started.
PLOT:
Jason Blake (JOSH HOLLOWAY) and Dante Graham (LAZ ALONSO) were once teammates on a b-boy dance crew that kicked off the craze commonly known as break dancing. Yet, while Dante went on to success as an entrepreneur, Jason's former success at basketball coaching was overshadowed by the deaths of his wife and son in a car accident. Now washed up and with a drinking problem, he lives in a small, unkempt apartment. At the same time, Dante fears that the waning popularity of b-boying could impact his company's hip-hop product line. Remembering how Jason brought their dance crew together in the past and fully aware of his coaching success, he approaches his old friend about coaching the L.A. b-boy crew for the upcoming Battle of the Year dance competition held in Paris.

Jason is reluctant, but eventually agrees, with the caveat that he have complete control of all coaching decisions, including assigning Dante's employee, Franklyn (JOSH PECK), as his assistant coach. That's followed by shelving the L.A. crew in favor of creating an all-star "dream team" from all corners of the U.S. Among those he chooses are Rooster (CHRIS BROWN) and Do Knock (JON 'DO KNOCK' CRUZ), who are former friends but current adversaries; Lil Adonis (RICHARD MAGUIRE) who doesn't like the fact that Sniper (SAWANDI WILSON) is homophobic toward him; Flipz (IVAN 'FLIPZ' VELEZ) who secretly has a wife and child; and a number of others.

Lodging and training them at a former juvenile detention center, Jason hopes to whip the crew into shape, including repressing egos and getting the members to work together as a team, all with the help of choreographer Stacy (CAITY LOTZ). With little time before the trip to Paris, Jason must whittle the b-boy crew down so that they can best represent America in competing against foreign teams, and especially the South Koreans who've dominated the competition for more than a decade.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
You know you're getting old and increasingly out of touch with what the "kids" are doing nowadays when you have no idea what a certain term means and haven't ever heard it used for that matter. Case in point is when several characters in "Battle of the Year" referring to "b-boy" and "b-boying." Considering it's a movie about what I'd call "break dancing," I figured it had something to do with that style of acrobatic dancing, but beyond that I had no idea and had to hear the term several times just to understand exactly what was being said.

For those of you riding in the same boat of obliviousness, that's about the only thing that will hold your interest in this dismal, by-the-books drama about a washed up coach (Josh Holloway) who's called in by his friend and former fellow dance member (Laz Alonso) to coach the American "break boy" dance crew in their effort to compete and hopefully bring the trophy back home from the annual titular dance competition.

It's your typical tale of the tough coach who must whip his team into shape, both physically and mentally, and remind them -- in true ego-buster fashion -- that there's "no I in team." If that sounds predictable, Brin Hill and Chris Parker's script is that, and in spades, with nary a surprise, although it's a bit shocking that this screenplay makes the "Step Up" dance films come off like Shakespeare in comparison.

With laugh and/or cringe worthy dialogue from the get-go, the film lost the respect of our preview screening audience from the very start, with nothing offered up after that to regain any semblance of serious watching. To make matters worse, the score is melodramatic and of the kind that too obviously drives home the point of whatever emotional response is targeted.

Piling on, the editing could be some of the worst I've seen from any studio flick in years (scenes jarringly cut to subsequent ones, much of the dancing is chopped up by hyper over-editing, etc.), with Benson Lee's direction stinking up the place as well. Various scenes start and then abruptly stop just seconds later, making one wonder why they're present in the first place and whether that's the helmer's choice (he also directed the documentary "Planet B-Boy" on which this is based) or some studio exec getting involved in the final cut without knowing anything about scene or entire film pacing.

Not surprisingly, the 3D offers nothing to the mix beyond far too many montage sequences featuring split screens floating alongside each other, while the product placement is some of the most blatant you'll see outside any standard-issue TV commercial. Simply put, the direction is a hodge-podge of styles that don't come together and certainly don't create any sort of rhythm, something a film of this genre clearly needs.

As far as the performances are concerned, the less said the better. Josh Holloway is the star, but his take on a coach won't go down in the annals of the cinema's best in that role. Laz Alonso is probably grateful he's not in the movie more, but at least Josh Peck manages to give his assistant coach character enough charm to get by (at least early on). Caity Lotz is introduced to great fanfare in one scene playing the attractive choreographer, but beyond her "I'm not into boys...I'm into men" sexual tease featured so prominently in the trailer, she's a non-factor in the proceedings beyond adding a smidge of estrogen to the otherwise all-male mix.

The acting side of those playing the b-boys is mediocre to poor, with Chris Brown eliciting laughter from our audience in his big emotional scene, while his adversarial relationship with another dancer (Jon 'Do Knock" Cruz) is nothing more than rote. The rest of the characters barely get anything with which to work beyond Richard Maguire playing the only gay member of the crew who must contend with an initially homophobic teammate (Sawandi Wilson).

And while some of the individual dance moves are impressive in terms of displaying the performer's strength, agility and acrobatic prowess, the over-edited view of them robs their effectiveness (unlike what occurred in most of the "Step Up" films). Yes, I might be far removed from the target demographic for this sort of film, but I still can recognize quality filmmaking or the lack thereof, and this battle is lost long before the final competition sequence. "Battle of the Year" rates as a 2 out of 10.




Reviewed September 17, 2013 / Posted September 20, 2013


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