Among the most breathtaking moves that Benson Lee’s “Battle of the Year” has to offer is the director’s shameless incorporation of his own acclaimed 2007 documentary, “Planet B-Boy,” as a plot point, with one character even calling it the sport’s so-called Bible. I don’t recall whether this comes before or after said character refers to the Sony tablet he’s wielding as “the future!”, but either way, it’s an act of ego so brazen as to be borderline endearing, which goes double for the film’s overall appropriation of nearly every single underdog sports cliché that comes to mind.
For the uninitiated, b-boying is essentially breakdancing, and “Battle” is essentially any other competition movie imaginable. Hip-hop mogul Dante (Laz Alonso) wants to bring the Battle of the Year title back to the States after fifteen years of international embarrassment, and so he enlists the reluctant help of old b-buddy/former basketball coach/current grief stubble model Jason (a sulking Josh Holloway) and his own fanboy assistant, Franklyn “with a y” (a smirking Josh Peck), to shape up Team U.S.A. in time for the worldwide competition in France. Can Jason ditch his drinking problem tied to an emotional trauma involving his family? Will the hot-headed teammates (including Chris Brown) squash their respective girl-minded beefs and homophobic tendencies? Does anyone even refer to the team choreographer and lone female (Caity Lotz) by her actual name before the end credits? WILL ANYONE SPELL FRANKLYN’S NAME RIGHT ON THE FIRST TRY?
Sure, it’s the second time in the past year that we’ve seen Peck and friends pitted against a South Korean enemy, and okay, a climactic routine involving blindfolded dancers is admittedly inspired. It also happens to be the one time that Lee’s restless cutting rhythms do the performers any favors. At least a third of the remainder consists of split-screen training montages, with each crowding the frame in an effort to make the 3D element seem busier if not more immersive. The ensuing competition sequences more often fall prey to the quick cuts of the recent “Step Up: Revolution” when compared to the remarkably fluid moves showcased in “Step Up 3D” before that.
On top of that, the whole creaky package is tied together by an exhausting amount of Sony product placement. (Distributor Screen Gems happens to be a subsidiary.) One defeated dancer hangs his head in shame during a locker room speech as old as time, but he happens to do so just within frame of his buddy’s brand new Walkman, which came with a similarly shiny PS Vita when Dante decided that the crew could use a few new toys for their transatlantic trip. As someone who enjoyed last year’s “Pitch Perfect” despite its blatantly formulaic trappings, though, I cannot entirely resent “Battle of the Year” for sticking to the same old steps. It should satisfy the planet of b-boys and girls to whom it thoroughly preaches the tenets of talent and teamwork while amusing anyone else who simply can’t ignore the promise of an all-corn buffet.
SCORE: 5.3 / 10