'Battle of the Year' is the kind of impossibly lame film that has its roots so firmly planted in the world it's depicting that it completely forgets how to tell a story that might compel anyone outside such a world to care about it. That being said, aside from the elaborate and stagy choreographed dance moments that comprise the core of this movie, it's hard to think even those firmly entrenched in B-Boy culture would give this shallow, listless effort more than a passing glance. Inspired by director Benson Lee's 2007 documentary 'Planet B-Boy,' 'Battle of the Year' attempts to showcase the athleticism and artistry inherent in these groups' elaborate dance routines with a fairly rote storyline about young men learning to overcome selfish individualism and work together as a team that is oftentimes so mawkish it's impossible to stifle a laugh.
The film ostensibly stars a handful of real-life B-Boys – which is one of the many problems the film faces when it comes to telling a dramatic story – and balances things out by casting the likes of Josh Holloway as Blake, a washed-up high-school basketball coach, and Laz Alonso as his old pal Dante, who currently runs what seems to be a media empire built around the B-Boy world. Added to the mix are Josh Peck as Franklyn, and singer-actor Chris Brown, as the appropriately named Rooster. While Rooster at least serves some purpose in terms of demonstrating how some in the B-Boy culture apparently thrive solely on aggression and acts of dominance – which plays into the film's overt theme of teamwork – Franklyn is the complete opposite: as one of Dante's sheepish employees, his all around anemic personality, and whisper-soft voice seem to serve no larger purpose than to demonstrate just how coarse and unforgiving Holloway's coach character can be.
Because the vast majority of dance troupe Dante is trying to build, to reestablish the United States' dominance in B-Boy dance competitions, are non-actors, 'Battle of the Year' really only has three or four professionals capable of delivering a dramatic performance. Coach Blake is probably the closest the film gets to an actual character, but he mostly gets lost in clichés, as writers Brin Hill and Chris Parker have chosen to give him a hackneyed and maudlin backstory about losing his wife and child in a car accident – which has caused him to start drinking excessively – to demonstrate how he's lost his way, and how the truth is: he needs these darned egotistical and undisciplined kids just as much as they need him! It's not surprising that a film like this would attempt such a cheap emotional stunt to get the audience to respond to a single character, but the upshot to watching Josh Holloway constantly pull from a seemingly bottomless flask is that it leaves fewer opportunities for non-actors to deliver mind-bogglingly stupid lines of dialogue like, "Two guys fall in love with the same girl, settle it with dance," and "You look like a gazelle with arthritis," to name but a few of the gems this film delivers. To make things worse, the director apparently told all of his actors that the key to delivering a dramatic speech is to either yell all the dialogue, or to convey emotion through a series of dramatic pauses. The result then is: great bellowing… and… so… many… dramatic… pauses.
But it wouldn’t matter if these guys could deliver their lines with more competence than Marlon Brando, because the writers didn't bother to make any of them remotely likeable. Even during scenes where the audience is supposed to be connecting with these down-on-their-luck B-Boys, the characters themselves come off as little more than entitled jerks with a massive chip on their shoulder; sure they're talented, but that sort of thing only goes so far, and it does absolutely nothing in terms of affability. Now that's a huge obstacle for any film to overcome, let alone jump over with an elaborately choreographed dance moves, and it certainly isn't helped by the presence of a divisive personality like Chris Brown, who is asked to portray a particularly disagreeable character whose abrupt shift to an object of pity feels half-hearted at best.
Aside from the lack of genuine opportunities for the audience to connect with these individuals, the plot itself is stale, and fails to rise above anything other than these young men's desire to beat other people doing the same thing. There's no emotional core to the film outside the basic pursuit of winning, nothing at stake other than bragging rights and a trophy, which effectively drains even more water from an already shallow pool. What makes similar entries in the subgenre of group competition films like the far superior 'Bring It On' and 'Pitch Perfect' work is that, at their heart, they are movies about distinct individuals coming together and working as a team to achieve a common goal. 'Battle of the Year' is ostensibly about the lure of obtaining a single goal with a bunch of non-characters chasing after it. That reversal of the dynamic may seem subtle, but it makes all the difference in the world when it comes to caring whether or not these people achieve their goals or not.
Ultimately, beyond a dearth of acting talent and fully realized characters, 'Battle of the Year' lacks the kind of self-awareness that might have made it more palatable to a wider audience. It's one thing to have passion for B-Boy culture and dance, but it's another thing altogether to tell a compelling story about it and the people who want to participate in such an event. As far as the film is concerned, these young men flying through the air come from all walks of life; it seems likely one of them might have a gripping tale or two about their life that could somehow be integrated into the film's narrative. Instead, the movie chooses to concentrate on exhibition of talent. And while there are some spectacular dance sequences in the film, performed by incredibly talented and athletically gifted young men, everything else around them winds up falling embarrassingly flat.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Battle of the Year' comes from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment as a single 50GB Blu-ray disc + Ultraviolet digital download. The disc will auto play a handful of previews as well as the obligatory Sony Blu-ray advertisement. All of these can be skipped to go directly to the top menu, where you can choose from a handful of audio formats and languages or to view the special features. For this release, Sony has opted to make the 3D version of the film available only as a separate single disc. This review is for the standard version of the film only.
'Battle of the Year' is presented in a very crisp 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 encoded transfer that is very bright and full of vibrant color. As the film itself relies heavily on the depiction of the these B-Boy dancers and their craft, it is important that the Blu-ray capture, in as much detail as possible, every element that they are putting on screen – otherwise there would be nothing much to watch. Thankfully, the disc provides a terrific looking image that handles these performances with great care and delivers top-notch detail and color in nearly every single scene.
Fine detail offers up good examples of facial features and textures, as well as affording the actors a nice looking skin tone that stays even throughout the film. Clothing textures are generally high, and background elements typically exhibit a tremendous amount of detail as well. There are some brief issues with black levels, though, as they tend to swallow up some of the finer details, but thankfully, most of the film is presented in brightly lit locations. Despite the lower detail during low light scenes, contrast levels seems particularly high most of the time, and that helps deliver a strong, deep image.
Overall, this is a good-looking image for a film that ultimately relies on the visual element more than any other facet.
The film has been given a truly outstanding DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that highlights the movie's omnipresent soundtrack, while also balancing out the many other audio elements at its disposal. While the dialogue is consistently crystal clear, and the sound effects and score are delivered through a very dynamic and wide range, it is the music that really becomes the star of the show. There is an extensive soundtrack to this film that, given its relation to dance, shouldn't be all that surprising. Most of it is played during the B-Boys' performances, so, again, unsurprisingly, there is a heavy amount of LFE that's present. But to the mix's credit, it never overdoes any of the bass or other elements of film's sound; it seems that balance is the order of the day here, and the disc benefits from it a great deal.
Most of the dialogue goes through the center channel speaker, though when the film moves to its climactic moment in France, plenty of the dialogue is spread around through the front speaker and the rear, giving the mix an impressive feeling of immersion, but also showing off some finely tuned directionality and imaging. Music generally comes through the front speakers, but that, too, winds up traveling through the rear channels and blanketing the listener in sound.
This is a tremendous sounding disc that doesn't seem like there's any room for improvement.
As a film, 'Battle of the Year' is close to spectacularly bad, but the movie also doubles as a commercial for Sony products, as nearly every piece of electronic equipment used is made by the company, and several characters mention Sony products by name, just in case you wanted a professional B-Boy's take on that Sony Vita you were thinking about purchasing. This is the kind of movie that is only going to appeal to fans of this particular form of organized dance, since the film didn't bother to try and make it interesting for anyone else. Still, for those who do plan on picking this up, they will get a great image and spectacular sound. So this one might have some interest for fans, but everyone else should just stay away.