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There are plenty of bad movies out there. Far more bad movies than good. It's usually easy to shrug off a bad movie, or to hate it with that gross brand of joy that sometimes erupts from film critics when they're given such an easy target to take aim at.
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Then, there's the camp of movies that Battle of the Year falls into, the camp that almost makes you pity the involved parties. The kind of bad movie that seems like it was really an accident, a misguided vehicle bumping along on tires made of good intentions that swerves one times too many and ends up a fiery spectacle on the roadside.
Battle of the Year is a terrible movie. Very, very little about it is good. But every movie deserves a fair shake, so I'll do my best to avoid joining in the parade of gleeful vitriol that is sure to be spewed its way once the critical masses start weighing in.
The latest in the seemingly annual dance movie "craze" (if something that isn't super popular can be labeled as such), Battle of the Year puts b-boying (breakdancing) in the spotlight. The title comes from the real-life event, which is like the Olympics of breaking, in which countries around the world send their best b-boys to try to bring home international breakdancing glory. As such, the movie comes across as a sort of prolonged commercial for the event, and its endorsements don't end there; not by a long shot.
The film is informed by the documentary Planet B-Boy, which is basically a supporting character in the film, getting plenty of screentime. Breaking up scenes of the American team practicing (we'll get to the plot in a bit) are little snippets of coach Derrek (Lost's Josh Holloway) watching the film on repeat via Netflix, where it has like a million views, according to Jewish assitant coach "Franklyn with a Y" (Josh Peck).
Those bits of marketing make sense within the film's world. This is a movie about b-boying, so namedropping important aspects of that culture makes sense, even if it's a bit obtrusive. The bigger sin is the blatant Sony product placement, including a House of Cards-esque mention of the Playstation Vita, and an assertion that a Sony tablet is "the future." It's disgustingly masturbatory, and apparently par for the course for the studio, which also gave the PS3 and Killzone 3 some ample screentime in This is the End.
Such blatant product placement is only one of the smorgasbord of issues with the film, sour icing on a stale cake.
Holloway's Derrek (known better as WB, short for "Wonder Bread" or "White Boy") is a former b-boy whose country twang shook up the community in its early days, and after leaving dancing behind to coach basketball and start a family, he's brought back into the game by hip-hip mogul Dante (Laz Alonso) to bring together an American "Dream Team" to bring the breakdancing crown back to the States. Derrek is still mourning the loss of his wife and son (via the bottle, natch), so he has to overcome his inner demons in order to bring together his team, all with the help of Franklyn, who spends most of the time muttering his lines like an extra from The Godfather while staring off into space or barely letting a smile curl his lips. None of this backstory about Derrek is anywhere near a spoiler, since the whole tale is monologued by Dante early in the film. With so much exposition out of the way, the film can get to the dancing. And some other stuff.
The team Derrek assembles is, of course, full of tension, epitomized by two main issues. Two of the dancers (one of them played by Chris Brown, who has some solid screen presence) used to date the same girl and can't get over it. The other big issue is a homophobic dancer who learns to stand up for his gay teammate, in the sort of arc that has been done in countless sports movies before. (One of the movie's brief interesting scenes has the team discussing whether breaking is an art or a sport.)
B-boying is a total sausagefest, but Battle of the Year gets a shot of femininity in the team's choreographer, Stacy (Caity Lotz), who surprisingly isn't introduced as a love interst for Derrek. While that's a refreshing subversion of expectations, it also comes at the expense of any sort of compelling female presence, as most of Stacy's scenes are relegated to nauseating split-screen sequences where three rectangles grow and shrink, making it hard to know where to focus. Lotz gets all of ten lines, none of which give the character a shade of depth.
Not that Holloway fares much better, even as the lead. The actor showed serious chops on Lost, but here, most of his scenes involve glowering into a mirror, watching Planet B-Boy, or growling at the team for not getting along and working as a unit. Not exactly memorable stuff. (And, disappointingly, but unsurprisingly, Holloway never dances.)
Luckily, Battle of the Year's main attraction is the dancing, and that's where the film really shines. Most of the cast is comprised of actual b-boys, and the dancing on display is truly impressive, and actually makes good use of the 3-D in cases where the dancers are hamming it up for the camera. The dancing on display at the titular competition is particularly impressive, culminating in a thrilling battle between the Americans and the (who else?) Koreans. The Americans' semi-finals performance is also a lot of fun to watch.
Unfortunately, all the cool dance sequences are saddled with generic characters, a poor story, and amateurish filmmaking technique. Battle of the Year feels like the sort of movie that should've been conceived as a documentary, which it already has been. Of course, it's easy to understand why the jump to a 3-D narrative film was made: people don't see docs. It's too bad, because I have to imagine that Planet B-Boy is infinitely more interesting, informative, and entertaining than this hot mess of a dance movie.