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Almost a Tragedy

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Hoping for a serious review of this movie? Stop reading now. Everyone else, please, continue.

Were dance movies ever cool? At some point, probably. I can remember watching “Footloose” and “Flashdance,” and not sitting in my seat cringing uncomfortably at all the silliness happening onscreen. It’s the movie which touts how no problem can’t be solved with a well-choreographed dance number. All actors with two left feet has a dimly lit body-double to make sure they can bust a move with a high degree of credibility. Dance movies are a cultural staple that have been around for a long time and aren’t going away any time soon. Like all genres, the hit-to-miss ratio is pretty high. For every “Saturday Night Fever,” there are a dozen “Staying Alive.” For every “Step Up” there’s a “Step Up 2, 3, 4, and 5.”

“Battle of the Year” is not a tragedy, but it’s awful close—a movie built on a foundation of cliché and framed with every stereotypical character type. It’s equal parts sports movie and dance film, and exploits every single aspect of those genres with hardly any level of success.

Hip-hop mogul Dante (Laz Alonso) is a fan of B-boy-style dancing. He grew up busting fresh moves on the streets when break-dancing was in its infancy, and doing head spins on cardboard was still considered cool. People stopped caring about the B-boy style of dance in America—but not abroad. Like everything else, the world had latched onto something America had discarded two decades ago and made it cool. Every year, the world’s best dance teams assemble to see which country has the maddest skills. And America hasn’t won in 15 years. Much like soccer and our educational system, America seemed destined to rank poorly in this annual event. And like soccer and our education system, 99 percent of Americans could care less.

But not anymore! No sir. America invented B-boy dancing, and, damn it all to hell, America is going to put together a team of funky fresh dancers to bring that dance title home! And who better to do that than Sawyer from “Lost” (Josh Holloway)? Apparently, when not stranded on an island being chased by a smoke monster, Sawyer is a Southern-fried badass street dancer. It seems he and Dante used to pop-and-lock together back in the day, and he’s bringing Sawyer back to help coach his dance team to victory.

See, Sawyer’s wife and son were tragically killed, which left him a broken husk of a dancing man. The only thing to heal that gaping wound in his soul came from teaching a rag tag bunch of underdogs the value of teamwork. It culminates in the sickest dance moves the world has ever seen.

Along the way, Sawyer picks up a sidekick, a young kid named Franklyn (Josh Peck) who loves hip-hop culture and B-boy dancing but who is rhythmically challenged. Together, Sawyer and Franklyn set out to assemble the greatest dance team in the continental United States. Comprised solely of stock characters from every sports movie ever seen, I couldn’t help recalling scenes from “The Mighty Ducks” while watching “Battle of the Year.” Actually, it felt more like “D2: The Might Ducks”—the one where they go play in an international competition and have to bring in new recruits to the team. The one where they set aside their differences in order to achieve victory.

When it’s 12-year-olds dealing with this kind of internal conflict, such movies manage amusement, maybe even a modicum of adorability. When it’s a bunch of sweaty guys in their 20s, the whole proposition becomes a lot less endearing, maybe even downright creepy.

But this is a dance movie—and a competition dance movie at that. Here, great dance sequences can entertain, thrill people and help an audience forgive the syrupy dreck that holds it all together. Unfortunately, the dance sequences in “Battle of the Year” are kind of tepid. None feel all that electric. They have a documentary quality to them, which feels appropriate since the film is a dramatization of the documentary “Planet B-Boy,” a far superior film.
“Battle of the Year” is the kind of movie that has no reason to exist. The real thing is far more interesting than the dramatization. The dance numbers are boring compared to the stuff you find in the “Step Up” movies, which at least make a real effort to electrify the audience. I never thought I’d find myself stepping up to defend the “Step Up” series, but compared to “Battle of the Year,” they are practically high art.

Battle of the Year

Starring Josh Holloway, Laz Alonso, Josh Peck, Caity Lotz, Chris Brown
Directed by Benson Lee
Rated PG-13

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