Let’s face: No one goes into a movie like Battle of the Year because of the complex plotting, unique character development or sparkling dialogue. It’s a movie about hip-hop dancing, and that’s what you want to see.
But ohhhh … how hard it is to get to the point where that’s enough.
It’s sad to realize that screenplays for dance-off movies haven’t progressed one scintilla since Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. The plot — about an alcoholic former b-boy and sports coach (Josh Holloway) recruited to assemble a rag-tag band of breakdancing punks to form a world-class team — is rife with cliches. The coach lost his wife and kid and has no purpose in life; the dancers are unruly and talk smack all the time; the major contest — the “battle of the year” in France — is fraught with problems. But the screenplay makes no effort to freshen them up. It even has an extended monologue early in the film to explain why the coach is how he is … as if we couldn’t guess from the 3,000 other movies we’ve seen like this. (It’s all complicated further because the credits note Battle of the Year is “based on” a documentary called Planet B-Boy, even though the coach keeps watching Planet B-Boy during the film. Weird.)
There is one nod to modern life: The inclusion of an openly gay b-boy, who is of course rejected by a fellow homophobic crew member. Any guess as to whether the homophobe finally embraces his gay teammate and becomes openminded and loving? If you don’t know the answer, it will be your only surprise in the movie.
So, with plot and dialogue a lost cause, the question is: How is the dancing? The answer is: disappointing.
The 3D effects don’t add much, nor does the high-speed photography the director uses to simultaneously slow down and over-edit the dances. The predictability of the plot makes waiting for the numbers more of a chore than you’d like; watching Chris Brown “act” doesn’t make it any better.
Still, I went in eyes wide open: I didn’t expect much other than to see young men school and get schooled with flamboyant dance moves. It more or less delivers that. Low expectations (and an adorable Josh Peck) are the only salvation of Battle of the Year.