“Battle of the Year”: Talk Less, Dance More


Director Benson Lee brings contemporary break-dance culture to the big screen once again. Only this time, it is a fictionalized version of his 2008 documentary, Planet B-Boy, with some big names hopping on the break-dance train. In Lee’s latest fictional 3D break-dancing movie, Battle of the Year (2013) actors Josh Holloway, Laz Alonso, Josh Peck, and R&B singer Chris Brown, try their luck with the six step alongside real-life B-boys like Do Knock and Flipz.

The film blurs the line between art and sport, and portrays break-dancing as ‘a little of both’. So, naturally, with the right, hard-ass coach, a former hillbilly B-boy and ex-basketball coach, Derrek, (played by Josh Holloway) the U.S. Dream Team of extreme American B-boys might just have a chance to win their first victory in over fifteen years at the annual international break-dance competition: Battle of the Year.

In just three months Derrek must train up a brand new crew, force them to lose their giant B-boy egos, and teach them how to work as a team. “Because there is no ‘I’ in team,” Derrek reminds us all, stoically, more than once throughout the film. His coaching tactics include negative reinforcement whenever anyone uses the word ‘I’ and allowing the B-boys to scrap it out when necessary. Train, dance, fight, Chris Brown gets punched in the face, injuries occur and the Dream Team heads to France. The story unfolds…

I am usually a huge fan of dance movies however cheesy and predictable they may be, but honestly, Battle of the Year was pretty hard for me to sit through. It’s the kind of dance movie that if I were watching it at home I would quickly resort to fast-forwarding through the talking parts just to see the dancing scenes. But even then, there are not enough quality break-dancing scenes to make it worthwhile. There are a few cool shots and snippets of battles and routines, but there should have been a lot more break-dancing footage, considering all of the real-life talented B-boys who were a part of the cast.

Unfortunately, most of the break-dancing scenes are really choppy and do not benefit whatsoever from being put in 3D. Instead the screen is cluttered with feet and knees and bodies flipping at every angle. There is so much crammed into each frame it is hard to focus on any of it. However, the few short dance scenes that actually do work really well cannot even begin to make up for the clunky, forced script riddled with cliches. The dialogue is terrible, and a bunch of young, muscular, attractive, actors and b-boys ripping up the stage may distract you temporarily from the bad writing, but it doesn’t make it bearable.

To be fair, the film has a few good points. Its message about getting along and working together are positive and it breaks down some stereotypes. Having an openly gay B-boy thrown into the mix is a nice touch. Although his storyline is not developed, the homophobia expressed by other teammates in the beginning is somewhat resolved and forgiven.

The film also does a really good job of not giving away any of the final routine through the training footage, so when we do finally get to see what the Dream Team has been working on, it is really exciting and impressive. But if you are like me, and hoped to see at least one B-girl bust some moves throughout the movie, you’ll be pretty disappointed. The only female character in the whole movie, Stacy (played by Caity Lotz) is a choreographer, but other than a few shots of her counting, you don’t get to see her dancing or choreographing much of anything. Not to mention you can count all of her lines on one hand! Realistically, a part from being a pretty face and the token girl in a completely male cast, her character is utterly pointless.

So all in all, despite some pretty wicked break-dancing moves here and there, it’s safe to say Battle of the Year will never make it on my list of favourite dance movies.