Remarkably, the highlight of Benson Lee’s Battle of the Year, essentially a fiction reboot of his Planet B-Boy, which documented breakdancing teams from 18 nations competing in the Battle of the Year championship in Braunschweig, Germany, isn’t the scene where Chris Brown gets punched in the face. It’s the American dance crew’s incredible synchronicity and evocation of more than just hip-hop dance and music traditions during a performance at the 22nd annual Battle of the Year in France. But the sequence, near-transcendent in its evocation of the U.S. as a great melting pot, is the only thing that electrifies the screen. More prevailing than the flailing arms and legs of the American b-boys trying to reassert their world dominance is the treacle that’s made of their underdog chutzpah and interpersonal dramas.
The Rocky-by-way-of-Fame storyline has Jason Blake (Josh Holloway), a has-been street dancer mourning the death of his wife and son, coaching a motley crew of b-boys into a can’t-lose “dream team”; he teaches them how to be team players, and they teach him to ease up on the hooch. Josh Peck, at once charming and rapey as the assistant who doesn’t really assist at anything, scores a laugh early on with a self-deprecating circumcision joke, and later appears fittingly embarrassed at having to shill a Sony tablet as “the future” (the film, natch, is distributed by Screen Gems, a Sony Pictures subsidiary). But as far as shameless advertisements go, and flying in the face of Jason’s message that his b-boys shouldn’t play the part of “ugly Americans,” none come more fascist than Laz Alonso’s magazine honcho asserting that, by virtue of hip-hop being born in the U.S.A., the Battle of the Year trophy is our right and not a privilege.