In the 1970s, a new form of urban dance known as breakdancing began to emerge among African-American and Puerto Rican youth in New York City. It incorporated rhythmic dance moves that combined flips, spins and jaw-dropping physical feats more akin to gymnastics than dance. Gradually, breakdancing—part sport, part art—spread across America and around the world. Practitioners came to be known as b-boys, and by 1990, an international, Olympic-like competition to identify the world's best b-boy "crews" was established.
It's called Battle of the Year.
Battle of the Year, the movie, offers fans of b-boying (as breakdancing is now commonly called) a fictionalized take on that actual competition, albeit one that includes real-world competitors and footage from director Benson Lee's previous documentary on breakdancing, Planet B-Boy.
Though b-boying originated in America, we learn early in the film that it's a discipline on the decline here. American teams initially dominated Battle of the Year, but were soon eclipsed by harder-working, more innovative crews from around the world—notably South Korea, France, Germany and Russia. But former b-boy-turned-multimedia-mogul Dante Graham is determined to reverse both trends. To accomplish that goal, he enlists the help of longtime friend and former championship basketball coach Jason Blake.
Blake, however, is hardly in championship form. Two years earlier, his wife and 15-year-old son were killed in a car accident. Blake's spent most of the time since dousing his grief in liquor. In a moment of clarity amid that alcoholic fog, Blake digs through an old box of memorabilia from his championship days and finds a note from his wife that inspires him: "Change how you think, change your life." And so he takes on the role of coaching what comes to be known as America's b-boy Dream Team.
The new coach quickly and brusquely instructs everyone from the previous team to take a hike, telling Dante they're too comfortable with mediocrity to compete for the world title. A nationwide search for a new crew yields a hungry roster oozing with talent and attitude in equal measure—especially two former friends turned alpha-dog enemies who go by the nicknames Rooster and Do Knock.
But Blake has zero patience for narcissism, conflict or top-dog shenanigans as he whittles the team down from 22 to 13. "Don't make the mistake of thinking I'm your friend," he tells the crew as he lays down the law on the first day of training. "I'm not." What he is is their guide up the rocky path toward the looming Battle of the Year competition in France. And he's still on his own hard road, too, warring with a steel whiskey flask that never seems to be empty.
As is the case in many team-oriented sports movies, Battle of the Year's narrative centers around Blake's attempts to get his players to quit focusing on themselves and how good they might be as individuals and start working together. He tells them that every time someone uses the pronoun I, the whole team will do 100 push-ups as a penalty. "There's no I in team," he spits. He repeatedly delivers his wife's wisdom, "Change how you think, change your life." On the brink of the French competition, he exhorts, "Act like champions, be champions." And he says, "Success is a choice."
The coach's relentless focus on the team's success rather than any individual's eventually helps all its members mature past the self-absorption that marked them when they were first recruited.
Blake's firm coaching discipline is balanced by his willingness to learn from others. He takes an eager young b-boy fanatic named Franklyn under his wing, listening to the lad's ideas (including hiring a talented choreographer named Stacy) and increasingly delegating some significant coaching responsibilities to him as the training progresses. He tells his team how much coaching them has changed his life even as he's tried to change theirs.
Franklyn is Jewish, but he tells Blake that b-boying is his real religion. He quips that Jewish men have no rhythm due to being circumcised. The Battle of the Year is described as breakdancing's "Mecca." And an announcement over the PA at the event proclaims that it is a multicultural celebration openly welcoming people of all religions. Blake tells his team on the first day of training that they'll be working out 12 hours a day, seven days a week, then says, "God takes Sundays off. We don't."
Stacy's formfitting outfits reveal cleavage and midriff. A woman working for Dante wears a plunging-neckline blouse. Guys on the team are shown shirtless. We see torsos while they shower and wear just towels. Several b-boyers include crotch grabs as part of their choreography.
The first day Stacy shows up, a number of suggestive statements pop out of the guys' mouths. One says, "You can teach me whatever you want—preferably on the floor." Amid the group's chatter, another mentions getting a massage, and someone else quips about having her rub his thighs. She responds, "I'm not into boys—I'm into men. You and I won't have a problem."
It's mentioned in passing that Blake got his girlfriend pregnant before they married. Franklyn mentions a relative having a mistress. One of the guys is openly gay; a crew mate refuses to sit with him at first, then warms up to him.
Rooster and Do Knock get into a couple of fistfights. One includes several powerful punches and eventually leaves them rolling around on the floor. Blake lets them go at it a bit before he finally breaks it up and tells them it can't happen again. When the American Dream Team is minding its own business at a dance club in France, someone later described as a "local punk" picks a fight with their gay teammate. A bar brawl ensues as the team defends him.
Crude or Profane Language
One indistinct f-word and at least 25 very distinct s-words. God's name is misused a half-dozen times, three times paired with "d‑‑n." "A‑‑" and "a‑‑hole" are blurted out more than 20 times. Characters say "d‑‑n" another dozen, and "h‑‑‑" six. "P‑‑‑" and "b‑‑ch" are used a handful of times each. Six scenes involve crude or obscene hand gestures. There's a joke about "t-tties."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Blake drinks in the morning, at night and whenever he can sneak a sip in without anyone noticing during the day. Franklyn and Dante are both aware of his habit, and one of them mutters after Blake leaves a practice, "Having a drink alone—that's not healthy." Dante tells his friend that he can't drink while coaching.
Then, near the end of the film, we hear Blake's whiskey flask go thunk as he drops it in a garbage instead of once again gulping its contents.
Several events involve people drinking wine, beer or champagne in social and celebratory settings. Passing reference is made to cigarettes.
Other Negative Elements
Someone tells Blake that he's got vomit (from drinking too much) on his shoes.
Battle of the Year reads as a familiar blend of comeback sports movies like Miracle, Hoosiers, Top Gun and, of course, Rocky. But that familiarity, or derivativeness, if you will—from teammates who initially hate each other but eventually become friends, to overcoming the odds stacked against them as a team, to an earnest-and-wise-but-still-deeply-flawed coach overseeing it all—also means that Battle of the Year isn't as emotionally moving as any of those films.
So it's unlikely that many folks outside of the breakdancing fold (or perhaps fans of Chris Brown, who plays Rooster) are going to be inclined to see this one. For families that do happen to have an aspiring b-boy in the house, however, the breakdown is pretty easy, with the biggest content concern here being 75 or so profanities—a disappointing and unnecessary element in a movie that otherwise jumps and whirls with inspirational intent.