Making the Grades
Whether you consider b-boying to be an athletic achievement or an artistic endeavor, Battle of the Year follows the sports movie genre to a T. Sadly for the American team, they haven’t won the annual international competition for several years and as a result the U.S. company that sponsors the crew is experiencing a downturn in sales. It seems people are losing interest and failing to buy all the b-boy paraphernalia the company sells—whatever that is.
During a tirade in the boardroom, Dante Graham (Laz Alonso), the company president, vows to bring this year’s trophy home—though it is likely less for national pride than his own commercial interests. Of course the only man capable of the feat is Dante’s old break dancing crewmember Jason Blake (Josh Holloway). He happens to be presently holed up in a dark basement nursing a bottle of booze. It’s hard to know who is taking the biggest gamble—Dante for offering the job or Jason for questioning whether he should take it.
One of Jason’s demands is that he assembles a team from the country’s top breakers. Once the finalists are chosen, he takes them to an old juvenile detention center and lays down the rules in preparation for their first competition.
As any sports movie fan knows there has to be at least one big blowup before the team learns to work together. And thanks to the ego-laden dancers (Chris Brown among them) pent up together in the decaying facility, there are lots of confrontations and a steady stream of profanities along with several crude hand gestures. In fact there are enough clashes that it’s hard to believe these b-boys can really put aside their out-of-control attitudes long enough to learn the same routine.
The dance moves, once they happen are amazing athletic feats. Unfortunately Director Benson Lee, who also made the 2007 documentary Planet B-Boy, chooses to use high-speed shutter cinematography for the dance sequences. If the 3-D effects don’t give you a headache, the stuttering images likely will. Rather than enhancing the scenes, the camerawork becomes a distraction, making the images look almost staged instead of real.
With its sparse storyline and several musical montages, Battle of the Year almost feels more like a documentary than a feature film. The American team’s journey seems to be there just to give the director a chance to show off the performances of several international crews. But while a documentary has to stick fairly close to the truth, a fictionalized story doesn’t have the same constraints—even if it’s based on a true event. (Although it’s hard to stray too far from the facts when anyone with an Internet connection can check out the past winners of the real competition.) I don’t want to give anything away but let’s just say it might be stretching things to have a happily-ever-after ending for this fairytale.
If you’re looking for stellar family entertainment, Battle of the Year might come up short. On the other hand the film offers some positive messages that make it worth a second look for teens. Both teamwork and success come at a price for these competitors and luckily we see them actually having to put in some effort. While most of those lessons are dished out on a tray of clichés, they still have merit for kids who have a hard time seeing past themselves. The film’s frequent profanities and the coach’s alcohol issues may dissuade some families from watching this film. But if your teen is big into b-boy culture, Battle of the Year is one skirmish they might enjoy.
Note: Originally titled—Battle of the Year: The Dream Team
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Battle of the Year.
Musician Chris Brown plays a lead role in this movie. For young fans of Brown, how difficult is it to separate his real life activities from the character he plays in the movie?
One character blames everyone else when things go wrong rather than ever accepting any responsibility. Is that attitude one that teens may emulate more readily because of the actor’s popularity with young audiences?
What attitudes do these crewmembers have to overcome? How does the coach encourage a team perspective?
How can decisions about camera angles, cinematography, lighting, music etc. impact the audiences’ experience when watching a movie?