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updated: 9/19/2013 8:00 AM

B-boys break bad in bloated 'Battle'

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  • Hip-hoppers do their thing in France at the "Battle of the Year."

      Hip-hoppers do their thing in France at the "Battle of the Year."

  • Franklyn (Josh Peck), left, Blake (Josh Holloway) and Dante (Laz Alonso) check out hip-hop recruits in the dance contest drama "Battle of the Year."

      Franklyn (Josh Peck), left, Blake (Josh Holloway) and Dante (Laz Alonso) check out hip-hop recruits in the dance contest drama "Battle of the Year."

  • Video: "Battle of the Year" trailer

 
 

Of all the performers in Benson Lee's energized hip-hop dance contest drama "Battle of the Year," sports movie clichés receive the hardest workouts.

Can alcoholic coach Jason Blake ("Lost" regular Josh Holloway) whip 13 self-centered b-boys -- hip-hop dancers -- into a well-oiled team in time to become contenders for the Battle of the Year contest in France only three months away?

Will fierce rivals Rooster (Chris Brown) and Do Knock (Jon Cruz) be able to bury the hatchet without it being in each other's backs?

Will homophobic Sniper (Sawandi Wilson) ever learn to stand up for his gay fellow b-boy Lil Adonis (Richard Maguire)?

"This is like 'Fame' with the Bloods and the Crips!" says Franklyn with a "y."

Franklyn with a "y" is played by Josh Peck, whose primary job seems to be standing around radiating Jewish charisma as Coach Blake's blue-eyed, right-hand assistant.

They get together because Blake's old friend, hip-hop business czar Dante Graham (Laz Alonso), wants to sponsor a crack group of b-boys to win the b-Battle this year. It doesn't matter that Blake has only coached a basketball team.

Dante loves Blake's idea to "cherry pick" the best of the best for their Dream Team. (Apparently, Dante never thought of this, yet he still became a hip-hop mogul.)

They pull together a ragtag group of 22 kids with names such as Rebel, Sight, Bambino and Mayhem. Every Friday, Blake torpedoes one more performer until he gets to the magic number 13.

"There is no 'I' in 'team'!" Blake bellows. "The only thing permanent in this universe is change!"

Yes, Holloway delivers those old and moldy sayings with such conviction, they almost sound profound.

He even gets around to telling his guys, "Your mental game is the key!"

"Battle of the Year" crams so many clichés into its 109 minutes that you just know it will end with a sports movie freeze-frame. And it does!

To be fair, "Battle of the Year" doesn't really care much for character and dialogue. It's all about the hopping.

That might explain why the story has no romantic subplots and no girls, except for Stacy the choreographer, played by "Madmen" regular Caity Lotz, who becomes instantly sexless the moment she tells the guys "I'm not into boys. I'm into men. So we won't have a problem, will we?"

Lee based this fictional feature on his own 2007 documentary "Planet B-boy" and wisely used actual dancers to play the roles of Blake's team members. For nonactors, most of them acquit themselves quite well.

(At least using real performers didn't require Marine Jahan to step in as a stunt double, as she did for Jennifer Beals in "Flashdance.")

Some of the battle footage inspires the desired "oohs" and "aahs" from viewers suitably impressed by the amazing physical prowess of these talented performers.

Dance 10; Acting 6; Plot 2.

Note: If "Battle of the Year" interests you, I recommend avoiding the 3-D format. First, nothing in the movie screams out for a 3-D effect. Second, the 3-D format -- at least at the Wednesday night screening I attended -- blurs the fast dance moves and gives the hip-hoppers a subtle strobe-light effect that's hard to watch after two minutes.

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