The logline to Battle of the Year is about all you need to know to understand exactly what kind of movie it is, and what you can expect from it: “Battle of the Year attracts all the best teams from around the world, but the Americans haven’t won in fifteen years. Dante enlists Blake to assemble a team of the best dancers and bring the Trophy back to America where it started.”
It’s that straightforward. Battle of the Year is basically a very bad version of Lean on Me combined with a marginally better written version of a Step Up installment (pick one. Any one. They’re all the same). Battle of the Year also happens to be loosely based on a much-better received documentary, Planet B-Boy, from the same director, Benson Lee, who is clearly better at tracking the evolution of breakdancing than building a conventional plot around it.
The only surprise in Battle of the Year is that the Lean on Me figure, Blake, is played by Sawyer from Lost (Josh Holloway), which is straight-up bananas. He’s a once great B-boy dancer (?) turned inspiring basketball couch turned broken down drunk after the death of his wife and child in a car accident. An old B-Boy teammate played Laz Alonso brings him in to build a dream team to compete in the world championships. He assembles a team (which includes a character played by Chris Brown, who goes the entire movie without once beating any girlfriends), and he whips them into shape with tough love. They respond by becoming a team instead of 13 individuals, and they go on to become strong competition in the worldwide championships.
The whole exercise comes straight out of the dance-movie formula book. The situations are cliche, every word spoken is a series of idioms ad faux inspirations quotes, and in the end, the teacher learns as much from his students as the students learn from him. Guh.
That said, as dance movies go (and I’ve seen every single one of them), it’s not any better or worse than the others. The B-Boy (which is the original term for breakdancing) is sick, and the choreography — as it is in almost all of these films — is outstanding. There’s even one feat the dancers pull off in the penultimate round of competition that I’ve never seen before. It was impressive, and as always, I have a great admiration and appreciation for what the dancers and choreographers can pull off in these films. In my opinion, Dave Scott — who has also served as choreographer on two Step Up films and Stomp the Yard — should get higher billing than the director, and paid more, as well.
However, the most important thing, of course, is that — in a movie filled with characters of all different races, colors, and ethnicities — the white guy gets to be the real hero in the end, the coach who brought this ragtime team of misfits to their moment of glory and built more than a team, he built a “family.” You’d hate to see in the rare Hollywood film with a wide-ranging mixture of races and ethnicities for someone besides the white guy to the all the credit.