Too incompetent to work as an underdog dance flick, but not nearly weird enough to qualify as howling camp, Battle Of The Year is destined to please only bad movie buffs desperate for a fix of awful dialogue, blatant product placement, and clunky exposition. However, pure badness is an acquired taste; viewers who don’t find lines like “I went to a concert and I overheard some high-school kids saying that B-boying is no longer cool” inherently funny should probably stay away.
Josh Holloway stars as a former high-school basketball coach who is hired to whip an elite breakdancing team into shape in time for the titular competition. Holloway is an alcoholic who “lost his wife and son in a horrible car accident” and now spends his days staring at himself angrily in the mirror while taking swigs from a flask. (Holloway’s alcoholism has no effect on the plot and is never resolved.)
Holloway prepares for this by watching Benson Lee’s previous film, the documentary Planet B-Boy, over and over. If nothing else, Battle Of The Year will teach the audience the following about Planet B-Boy: Apparently it’s the most important movie ever made about breakdancing, it’s really popular, and it’s on Netflix Instant right now. In fact, viewers can even use a Sony Xperia tablet to watch it! (After Holloway watches Planet B-Boy on Netflix Instant on a TV controlled by a Sony tablet, the TV displays the film’s DVD menu, thereby confirming Lee values putting the title of his previous movie into one more scene over basic competence.)
Crammed with promoters and sponsors, the movie feels like a nightclub handbill blown up to feature length. E! News’ Terrence J. and MTV News’ Sway Calloway both get opening-credits billing for cameos as themselves, and are identified with on-screen text as “Terrence J, E!” and “Sway Calloway, MTV” every time they appear. Braun—real-life sponsor of the Battle Of The Year competition—is praised in the dialogue early on, and has its logo in nearly every shot of the climax. In terms of cross-promotional shamelessness, the movie stops just short of having the characters meet Benson Lee, famous director of the acclaimed documentary masterpiece Planet B-Boy.
Some of this would be forgivable if Battle Of The Year had halfway-decent breakdancing sequences. However, with the exception of one brief moment—a rehearsal of the team’s entrance, presented in a single take—its dance scenes are lackluster; most are shot using a tight shutter angle, which results in a stuttery look, familiar from countless ’00s action films, that works much better in 2-D than in 3-D. Lee’s editing and choice of angles turn the dance routines into disorganized collections of jerks; his decision to focus on Holloway’s team means that their opponents—including the feared Korean team—never seem impressive, which robs the movie of any sense of stakes. Considering the fact that Battle Of The Year’s cast includes many real-life, talented breakdancers capable of executing routines in full, the film’s choppy climax amounts to a massively squandered opportunity.