Contrary to the images that the title might evoke, Battlefield America is not a war movie, it is a hip-hop dance movie along the same vein as the Step-Up trilogy, Honey, and Save the Last Dance. In fact, Battlefield America is basically a mash-up of all the popular dance movies we’ve seen over the past ten years.
The plot of Battlefield America is nothing new or innovative. A busy businessman name Sean Lewis who is an advertising mogul is on the edge of making partner at his firm when he gets a DUI and is sentenced to community service. After a rocky start at the community center he becomes a dance teacher for a group of mouthy, wayward boys. He isn’t a dancer and he doesn’t like children. All Sean seems to really like is fancy clothes, fancy cars, and looking at himself in the mirror. So he brings in a professional dancer named Prime that he knew from ‘the Sprite campaign’. Together they try to get the kids ready to audition for ‘Battlefield America’ where local dance teams from community centers compete for the title of ‘Best Crew’. The boys call themselves the ‘Bad Boys”. Then, you guessed it, Sean learns to be a better person by working with the kids and the kids learn to be great dancers and learn the value of teamwork.
Battlefield America has a lot of problems but the one thing it gets right is the dance sequences. However, the movie is eighty percent plot driven drama and twenty percent dance scenes and it should have been the other way around. The movie opens with two teams of young children dance battling. The music is pumping, the camera work is energetic and the dancing is amazing. I cannot emphasize enough in this review how great all the kids are at dancing. The choreography is fresh and exciting and the kids commit one hundred percent. One little girl named Cameron Bicondova stood out on the dance crew called the Bang Squad (they are the three time ‘Battlefield America’ champions). She is a tiny little thing but her dancing is, to borrow a phrase, ‘off the hook’.
The biggest problem with the movie is the script. It feels like a first draft. There are lines in the film that sounds like lines from an after school special. The problem with that type of dialogue is that even a good actor wouldn’t be able to make it sound naturalistic and Battlefield America is very short on good actors. Mekia Cox plays Sarah the woman who runs the community center where Sean teaches the kids. Cox is the only actor in the film that is consistently believable. Everyone else in the film feels like they are just giving line readings. Getting believable performances out of children is often a challenge for filmmakers and director Chris Stokes failed.
Another major problem with the film is that it is wholly unoriginal. Each of the Step Up movies has the same structure where a rag tag group of dancers have to come together to compete in a dance competition. Not to mention the other half dozen movies with a similar plot: Shall We Dance, You got Served, and Mad Hot Ballroom just to name a few. Take The Lead had the same ‘teacher who believed in the underprivileged kids and taught them that they could be more through dance’ plot. In the beginning of the film when we are introduced to Sean he has the identical entrance as Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Stealing the best parts of other movies and mashing them all together, does not a good movie make.
The one single element that makes Battlefield America stand out from all the other hip-hop dance movies out there is the young children they use as the main dancers in the film. All the other movies tend to use adults or at least teens, Battlefield America uses kids who are around age ten and younger. It is a lot of fun to watch the kids dance battle. You can’t help but respect the amount of effort, skill, and training the kids must have done to execute such impressive routines. There are several featurettes on the DVD that have interviews with the kids and behind the scene footage. You get to see the kids practicing and talking about their characters in the film. The featurettes have a lot of the same footage in them but it’s interesting to see the kids having fun and practicing their routines. The DVD also has a couple of music videos of songs from the soundtrack. It is a little odd to have them on the DVD because they are both slower songs with no dancing in the videos, it just feels a little disjointed.
Battlefield America is one of those movies that doesn’t have a concept of scale. Even the title Battlefield America is inaccurate; it appears to be an LA specific competition. The competition takes place in a huge arena in downtown LA, with the name ‘Battlefield America’ in neon across the top of the arena. They establish this several times with helicopter shots sweeping over the arena. When the battle starts they say right at the top there are only three teams competing and it is a three-minute long contest. There are only about a hundred or so people in the audience, it is ludicrous to believe that they rented out and customized this arena for a community center fundraiser. I know this is a nit pick but it is really absurd and this scale issue is present through out the film.
Battlefield America is not a very good movie, but it has some great dance sequences that are worth watching. You do have to sit through a lot of bad acting and worse dialogue to get to the good parts, but they are there. If you are someone who waits in line for the next Step Up installment or you want to learn some new moves for the dance floor then Battlefield America is worth a watch, the rest of us will just have keep practicing our popping and locking in the mirror.