Punishment Movie Review: Battle of the Year

 Battle of the Year, the 2013 dance film directed by Benson Lee, is a parody of sports films.  Pretty much any and all tropes and cliches that have been used over the years are addressed within Battle of the Year with a scathing whit and chastising creativity.

Dante Graham's (Laz Alonso) vague business empire needs America to win a B-Boy dance competition in France to turn around his company's financial fortunes.  It's incredibly vague and purposefully left unexplained to show the shoe-horning plot devices that can create a 'fake need' within these types of films, giving a motivation that isn't thought through and is merely a plot penguin to become a base for the story.

Enter Coach Jason Blake (Josh Holloway), the washed up former B-Boy and basketball coach.  He, of course, has tormenting ghosts from his past when he lost his wife and child to a tragic something or other. Obviously, the first scene with Coach Blake has him being visited by Graham when he's just waking up and looking all kinds of disheveled.  

Reluctantly he agrees to Graham's idea to create an American B-Boy dance team, because of talk of past friendship n' stuff.  He choses a lackey from Graham's company, Franklyn (Josh Peck) who has an incredible knowledge of B-Boying to be his assistant coach, because we need to have an unlikely and overlooked person become the assistant coach who isn't given a whistle at first, but must earn it later on in a scene where he proves that he has got what it takes.  This moment of forced sentimentality will remind us all of past similar concepts, deepening the brilliance of this parody.  

Also, Franklyn needs to tell people that his name is spelled with a Y, because whenever I meet someone and introduce myself it is customary to clarify the spelling of my name.  Don't get too frustrated, as this is in here because it's common for a poorly written character's personality to be distilled down into something as mundane as having to tell people how their name is spelled.

On his first day on the job, Coach Blake kicks the existing American team to the curb, an action that literally doesn't make sense but is in there to highlight Blake's unconventional coaching methods as he wants to focus on a team and not individuals.  This is whip-smart, because he literally just dismissed an actual team and will now look to recruit individual dancers.  I know, it doesn't make any sense at all, but if you remember to watch this as a parody, it is actually really brilliant.

When the selections are made, Blake makes it clear that he is going to be sending one dancer home each week until he has the roster he wants.  The first person to be sent off is the best dancer in the group, and the reason is because of teamwork, but moreso to reinforce the fact that he is unconventional.  This leads to tension between Blake and Graham, who isn't keen on the coach's approach.  Like all great mundane sports movies before it, Battle of the Year goes nowhere with this, and it ends up becoming another plot penguin.

Within the group of hopeful dancers is a gay guy who isn't liked by another dancers, because some sort of discrimination needs to be in here.  Also, there are two dancers who had a history of friendship until a problem with a girl caused them to hate each other, and their animosity spills over to be toxic for the group.  This all gets resolved when one of them admits that he hadn't been dating the girl for ten months before the other guy did, so there was actually no reason for them to be mad at each other.  Why the hecky funk wouldn't he have just said that at the time?  Well, the conflict between them needs to be easily reconcilable to ensure that neither can be viewed as antagonistic by the audience.  One of them also admits to feeling like he was in the shadow of the other, or some such typical nonsense, so they can have a moment of bromance.

Also in the group is a guy who keeps sneaking off at night, presumably to be doing something sinister.  The coach follows this guy to a motel to find out that he has been keeping his baby there, possibly alone, because he introduces the baby's mother to the coach in a later scene, so who the hecky funk was looking after the baby?  It doesn't matter.  The first reason it’s in here is to show that this guy who seemed rough around the edges has a heart.  The second reason is because the audience needs a forced way to attach to this generic character right before the coach has to make the decision that this guy needs to be the final dancer cut.

I know what you're thinking... you're thinking that there is no way this can be permanent and that the heart of gold dancer must return, most likely being called back after the best dancer in the group injures himself and is unable to compete at the Battle of the Year.  I will tell you why you're thinking that.  It is because that's what has happened in the past, and fear not as this exact thing happens in this film.  Hurrah!

I have forgotten to mention the dance choreographer who is brought in to help the crew.  They don't like this, because I guess dancers don't like choreographers.  In comes Stacy (Caity Lotz), who has to establish herself as a completely throw away character who has zero impact on the plot and only exists because Battle of the Year is the biggest of the sausage soirees and having a woman in there to have a singular moment of nothingness is needed for this to be a proper parody.  There needs to be a useless woman, because... well, because of the rich history of such horrible plot decisions.

When they get to France, the guys get into a bar fight that they tried to avoid.  Of course, Coach gets all pissy and says they're done and heading home.  They are a disgrace and not a team.  But then, assistant coach Franklyn with a Y tells Coach Blake that the fight happened because discrimination dancer stood up for gay dancer, which now shows that they actually are a team.  Blake can't deny this, so all is cool.

The Americans have a lot of work to do to win over the crowd, and they do just that.  In the end, they obviously come second place because they need to know that the big victory is how far they've come.  And Coach now realizes that while he lost his family to tragedy, he has a new one and now no longer needs to be an alcoholic, because that's just how addiction works.

Throughout the film are many dance sequences, which are shot and edited in a way that makes it confusing to follow, and we just kind of think that we are seeing the same moves done over and over by different people.  This is to highlight the fact that in poorly made sports films there are issues with the shooting of the sport, and sloppy editing assists in distracting from the lack of effort and coordination to create good sports sequences.  This is an interesting move, as director Benson Lee actually made a documentary on B-Boying called Planet B-Boy, so he is naturally better than this, but needs it to look sloppy if he wants this to be a proper parody.  Oh, and he also has Franklyn reference Planet B-Boy as being the holy grail of B-Boy stuff or some such thing, because there's nothing awkward about referencing your own work, which is why doctoral candidates can use their own past essays and papers to prove their points as long as they are footnoted in Turabian style.

Battle of the Year has it all.  Seriously.  This is one of the best parodies out there for any genre because of just how thorough it is in referencing every single cliche that we have seen develop over the decades.  Lee is brilliant, and deserves to quote his own material and put it up on a pedestal that none of us would have.  You need to watch this film.  Somehow, this movie fell through the cracks and isn't recognized as the brilliant piece of filmmaking that it is.

Uh...  oh...

This just in.  Battle of the Year is not a parody.  I hate my life.

Back to you, Chris.

Rating - 0.5 out of 4 stars