Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Battlefield America

Directed by Christopher B. Stokes.
2012. Rated PG-13, 105 minutes.
Marques Houston
Mekia Cox
Christopher Michael Jones
Jojo Wright
Tristen Carter
Valarie Pettiford
Gary Anthony Sturgis
Russell Ferguson
Big Boy

Sean Lewis (Houston) is a young, hot shot exec who is climbing the ladder of success at breakneck speed. That speed gets him in trouble on the road as he has accumulated a string of traffic violations. He is so busy with his career, he merely tasks his lawyer to handle it without his presence. When informed he must appear in court for his latest discretion or risk being thrown in jail, he does, but takes a very cavalier attitude with him. Luckily for him, instead of getting sent to the slammer, his lawyer brokers a deal for him to perform community service. The catch is that it must be done for eight hours a day over the next two weeks. This is to be performed at a rec center in the hood where he is put in charge of a group of boys who want nothing more than to win the Battlefield America kiddie dance crew competition. Of course, they’re not the most disciplined or talented group. Sean trying to connect with the boys, keep his career intact, and woo Sara (Cox), the gorgeous rec center director, ensues.

Everything that happens in this movie pertaining to our hero’s relationship with the boys occurs exactly as you think it would. He forms a special bond with the tough kid, wins over the heart of the pretty girl, disappoints them when he reverts to his old selfish ways, etc. Surprisingly, this predictability is less of an issue than how we get from one overly familiar plot point to the next. Instead of flowing into one another, developing things as we go, we get a succession of disjointed scenes. As each begins we get the sense that something was left out between the beginning of the one we’re watching and the end of the one we saw before it. This renders character attitude changes jarring and events feel like they’re happening only because they are supposed to, not out of the organic growth of the story. This is worsened when there is a dance set between two dramatic scenes. The movie uses the dance sequences as excuses to jump to whatever the next item on the checklist is without actually navigating the waters to arrive there. This calls attention to other things that are so illogical they seriously stretch the idea that this is taking place in our world. For instance, after our hero is caught red-handed not performing his community service in the time mandated his punishment is not jail, as it would be for you or I. Instead, he’s merely given more community service. Matters are not helped by the fact that not one actor brings enough weight to their roles to really sell it and help us get past such things. The whole thing is not just paint-by-numbers. It is coloring with a highlighter so that all of the numbers are still visible.

Most things aside from what happens between Sean and the crew are laughable, at best. How he handles his work situation is simply ridiculous and the inevitable outcome of it is an eye-roller. The bigger problem, however, is its falling into the same trap as countless other urban dance flicks. We’re dropped into yet another underground dance culture where most dancers are evil thugs and the most thuggish ones dominate all of the competitions. Of course, many of these competitions take place at night in back alleys and change locations often as if an attempt to avoid police detection. It’s already silly in movies featuring people in their late teens and early twenties. Here, where none of the dancers have even reached puberty it’s goofy on hyperdrive.

Here’s the thing: dance movies are largely critic proof. You can slap together any story, no matter how lazy or sloppy, and people who love dance movies will enjoy it as long as the dancing is good. Why do you think they keep making sequels to  Step Up? It’s not because some great saga needs to be continued. It is because the high energy and inventive dance routines keep drawing crowds. No, they’re not raking in comic book movie dough but these are low budget affairs, relatively speaking, and bring in big returns. For instance, Step Up Revolution cost $33 million to get on the big screen and hauled in $140 million at the box office. True, Battlefield America was a commercial failure, but may earn years of returns from cable networks running it ad nauseum, like the Jessica Alba dance movie Honey. In other words, there is an audience for this. I can’t say I blame people for liking it. For all of it’s many faults, being dull is not one of them. To the point of this review, to help you figure out whether or not you should see this, I’ll say that the big selling point on the DVD cover is that this is “from the writer, director and creator of You Got Served." You decide whether that is an invitation or a warning.

MY SCORE: 3/10

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