The dance moves are killer but the story is deadly in “Battle of the Year.” Bland and boring are not the adjectives you hope for from a movie starring Josh Holloway (a.k.a. Sawyer on “Lost”) as an alcoholic coaching a team of young breakdancers to the world championship (in 3D!), but a cookie-cutter narrative and unimaginative filmmaking rob this “Battle” of just about any pleasure, guilty or otherwise.
Director Benson Lee previously made the documentary “Planet B-Boy” and that 2007 film serves as both an inspiration for and an awkward plot point in “Battle.” When young B-boying fan Franklyn (Josh Peck) wants to inspire washed-up college basketball coach Jason Blake (Holloway), all he has to do is play the documentary. (“You’ve never seen ‘Planet B-Boy’!?,” an astonished Franklyn asks. “It’s got like a billion rentals on Netflix!!”)
Obviously Lee is proud of his work. He’s also clearly passionate about this world of hyper-athletic dancing, and the hip-hop infused gymnastics can be very thrilling to watch, especially since the on-screen dance crew is comprised almost entirely of real-life B-boys. But they can’t help the movie’s noxious brew of sports movie cliches go down any easier. (Brin Hill and Chris Parker are credited with the script, but in a project so blatantly made by committee there’s surely plenty of blame to go around.)
The plot is so straightforward it’s embarrassing: a coach battling personal demons assembles an all-star team of American B-boys and subjects them to an intense three month training period in preparation for the world championship Battle of the Year in France. Instead of exploring the ins and outs of training, or the hard work these guys put in to hone their craft, Lee settles for a series of snazzy montages punctuated by perfunctory character interactions never developed enough to qualify as subplots.
Everything from Blake’s drinking problem (he lost his wife and son recently in a terrible car crash, natch) to Franklyn’s wisecracks feels utterly tossed off. A female choreographer (Caity Lotz) is brought in simply so there’s a woman on screen. One of the B-boys is gay, another one has a problem with that. One of them has a wife and newborn. One of them is Chris Brown (whose charm offensive is decidedly off-putting), and he’s got beef with a teammate because they both dated the same girl. Every conflict is resolved in the most tepid way imaginable — some simply disappear over the film’s unconvincing passage of time.
Competition movies tend to work better when you care about the people involved and understand what’s at stake. Here the characters have about as much personality as the Sony electronics they gratuitously plug in multiple scenes. (“It’s the future!” Franklyn enthuses when he hands Blake a Sony tablet. “I got a PS Vita!” Brown exclaims later.)
It’s all pointless preamble to the third act’s main attraction: the Battle of the Year. Lee shot extensively at the actual event back in 2011 (there was understandably no rush to get this movie into theaters) and finally taps a vein of energy and excitement the rest of the movie lacks. The final number would be a real show-stopper if the filmmakers had bothered creating a show to stop.