Does This Film “Step Up” and “Bring it On”? A Look at the Latest “Dance Competition” Film.

Director: BENSON LEE/2013

Benson Lee, director of Planet B-Boy, takes the true-to-life story of the annual worldwide B-Boy (Break Boy-a breakdancing term) competition (documented in Planet B-Boy) and gives a fictionalized treatment of the real American team’s account of trying to win back the trophy after years of irrelevance.  Despite having invented break dancing, it seems that America has fallen towards the back of the pack allowing many European and Asian countries to step up their game and take the title.

Desiring to bring America back to relevance, hip-hop mogul Dante Graham (Laz Alonso) recruits old friend, and former basketball coach, Jason Blake (Josh Holloway-LOST, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol).  Blake is known to be a former B-boy from the old days of breakdancing who has recently lost his wife and child.  Desiring to bring him out of his alcohol based isolation, Dante believes that Blake is the type of coach the B-Boy team needs to help them bring home the trophy.

Battle of the Year follows the sports/inspirational movie formula to the letter.  The fact that it is somewhat based on a true story doesn’t change the fact that this retelling is mostly a script that is followed by every sports and competition movie of the last 40 years.  Take a rag-tag team of “who-evers” that have all the talent in the world but who lack the discipline and the teamwork necessary to pull together as a team.  Instill the hard-nosed coach who will break them down so that he can build them back up again.  Give the coach a broken past so that the team’s success somehow is a path of personal redemption for his own life, and bring him along by allowing him to mentor one particular individual who he really clashes with but who is actually more like himself.  Show the internal struggles of team members as they seek to put aside their ego for the sake of the larger goal or group.  Have an event bond the team to bring them together.  Create an enemy (in the form of a rival team) that is unbeatable unless they all pull together.  All that is left is the training montage, and the big ending.

Despite this being an age-old formula, it still is a very effective one considering all of the films that have employed it.  Films from Hoosiers, Mighty Ducks, Remember the Titans, and Major League have all employed it.  For films that are closer to the genre ofBattle of the Year, simply look to the Step Upfilms, You Got Served, and even the cheerleading-based Bring it On series.  Battle of the Year seeks to stand amongst these other films and ride this formula all the way to box-office success.

The big draw to this film is the casting of controversial hip-hop artist turned actor, Chris Brown.  Brown is effective enough in this type of film as he plays a character that reflects many of the negative characteristics we hear about him in real life.  His character is cocky, talented, egocentric, and he is only in it for himself.  To his credit, Brown is able to keep up with the other characters, who are played by real B-boy dancers. He displays several impressive dance moves of his own in the movie, and even has a decent character arc that shows some growth and development.  That being said, I still felt like I was watching Chris Brown, the real-life person, inhabiting a movie rather than seeing him play a character in the movie. The audience that comes out to see this film will no doubt be doing so as fans of Chris Brown more so than being fans of this movie in particular.

I believe that much of the dancing in Battle of the Year was more impressive than that of Step Up and the other similar genre-films.  The editing style however, may take away from the purity of the moves, as you are getting fast cuts instead of seeing the artform of the entire skillset needed to do the whole routine.  In this way, it looks more like a slick production for a film rather than the raw awe-inspiring talent that is displayed each year in the real-life B-boy competitions around the world. Also, the 3D treatment adds nothing and sometimes takes away from the visuals in the film.

Josh Peck, who plays Franklyn, Blake’s assistant coach provides some balance and humor to the film’s contrast of fast-paced dance sequences and Josh Holloway’s brooding depiction of Coach Blake.  Caity Lotz is a breath of fresh air playing the dance choreographer brought in to create the team’s routines.  Unfortunately, she is under-used here.  Despite some suggestions of a possible romantic connection with Coach Blake that might serve as a vehicle to pull him fully out of his alcohol and melancholy existence, it is never really developed.

Despite some good dancing, all you really get out of this movie is what you’ve seen before.  The formula itself is proven enough to provide the audience with enough feel-good moments that they’ll forgive the lackluster story and character development and leave the theater feeling mildly entertained and more aware of the B-boy competition as a whole.  But does Battle of the Year “Step Up” and truly “Bring it on“?  The answer, like this film, lies somewhere in the middle of the pack.  Ultimately, the “Battle of the Year” for this film is to find an audience beyond those who are only going to see Chris Brown.