Movie Review | ‘Battle of the Year’ fails to impress
Published: Thursday, September 26, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 26, 2013 09:09
Some bad movies are fun to see. Maybe they feature an actor who makes the experience worthwhile or satisfies a guilty pleasure; sometimes “bad” movies are actually effective films that audiences are just unable to recognize as fantastic. But then there are others that fail to contribute anything to our lives — movies that take away viewers’ two hours of time and ten dollars and offer nothing in exchange. “Battle of the Year” falls squarely in this latter category.
“Battle of the Year” follows the story of alcoholic basketball coach Jason (Josh Holloway) who is recruited by a hip-hop mogul to build a team of the country’s best break dancers so that the U.S. might reclaim its title as the capital of hip-hop at the international — and titular — Battle of the Year. The film’s greatest problem lies in its attempt to be two things at once — “Battle of the Year” tries simultaneously to be both a dance and sports film, but the finished product is a lot of neither. Though the plot had potential, the problem with “Battle” is not its concept, but rather its execution.
Dance films usually function in one of two ways. Sometimes they are portrayed as a visual story, much like in musical theater, when words simply aren’t enough and the characters have to express themselves in a grander style. Other times the dance itself is the story and dialogue is used to connect each dance to the last in what is essentially a filmed performance. “Battle of the Year” does not build cathartic, empathetic characters to cheer for, meaning the first option is already out the window. To his credit, director Benson Lee nearly clearly chooses the second alternative; however, for this method to work, the audience must have a clear, uninterrupted view of the dance — a film equivalent to the “best seats in the house.” “Battle” cuts up the breakdancing sequences with such lightning-fast speed that viewers have no idea what is going on. The choreography and performances could have been, and probably were, absolutely incredible — but we never get to see them.
Sports films, though, require honestly written, deep characters whose conflicts are externalized in their sport. “Battle of the Year” simply does not have the characters to sustain itself as a viable sports film. Take the main character, Jason, for example. The beginning of the film introduces a situation in which he must give up alcohol in order to succeed. At first, he has thrown away his bottle of Jack and seems to be on the right track. Then, all of a sudden, he is drinking wine with his pseudo-love interest (Caity Lotz), and that’s it. Is he no longer an alcoholic? His central issue — and most defining character trait — in the first two-thirds of the film is somehow abandoned in the blink of an eye.
“Battle of the Year” harbors some problematic social issues as well. Casting Chris Brown is one thing, but giving him demeaning, sexist and womanizing lines is a poor choice in light of Brown’s similar real-life issues.
The film also introduces a conflicted relationship between a gay breakdancer and another breakdancer who was in the military. When the ex-soldier tells the gay dancer, “Where I’m from, we don’t ask, and you don’t tell,” the audience wants to see him redeem himself. Their relationship does improve, but it does so with little contrition on the part of the ex-military dancer. The gay character, however, does act remorsefully, telling the audience that he ought to apologize for being openly gay. This is a troubling — and old-fashioned — depiction of gay characters.
“Battle of the Year” does not work, nor will it add anything to your day. Not only will you be disappointed; you’ll also be frustrated and angry. Save yourself the aggravation and go see something else.