Step Down, by Jack Fleischer
How to begin a review of Battlefield America? A Battlefield Earth sequel joke seems too easy, and a comment about how Roger is all “growed-up” seems too obscure. Let’s cut to the chase. This movie is probably exactly what you’re expecting. If you’re over fourteen, this movie is not for you, and if you’re under fourteen … maybe it’s for you. This movie is a vanity project and a child’s fantasy rolled up into an oversized candy cigarette. At the end of the day it’s not a good movie, but if you love Marques Houston or dancing children, “Smoke that shit, son!”
Meet Sean Lewis (co-writer/producer, Marques Houston). He’s an ad exec, and in a dizzying five-minute montage he comes to work, becomes a partner at his advertising firm, and gets a DUI. Luckily his lawyer has friends at the D.M.V., the D.A.’s office, and a local community center. These connections enable him to change an “automatic license suspension and jail time,” to 120 hours of community service with children who want to win a dance competition in order to restore their pride.
Did I mention he hates kids?
The premise may be wonky, but to that I say: Back to the Future. If I can believe in a time traveling DeLorean, I can believe a rich dude is able to manipulate the legal system. As for the fact that he hates kids – The Bad News Bears totally made that work! With a drunk no less!
Unfortunately Marques Houston is no Walter Matthau, and Battlefield America isn’t The Bad News Bears. For starters Houston doesn’t act. “Sean” is a mildly charming rich person who happens to be a dead ringer for Houston. Then there are the kids who are pretty much just precocious cartoons. The lead tyke in particular is merely a carbon copy of Houston. They are so alike, that they’re even given love interests from the same gene pool. If I had to guess, Houston regrets that he didn’t just reprise his roll from You Got Served.
There are secondary child characters of course. There’s the angry one, the fat one, the quiet one, and the ever so slightly effeminate one with a “high voice.” These kids are given problems, some believable, others not, but the solutions are over simplified to the point of absurdity. Let’s not even get into the fact that there’s one nameless kid in the group who randomly appears and disappears.
None of this is helped by the fact that the script is full of confusion and constant exposition.
One scene that leaps to mind is when an unidentified woman appears at the front desk of the community center. She yells at the woman behind the counter about how her eldest son wanted to be a football star, failed, got into drugs, and then died of an overdose. Now her other son is enjoying dancing, and she refuses to let the same thing happen to him. She then walks around the corner and pulls out her kid (the one with the high voice), and they leave. Houston shows up in time to plead with her, but she storms off. The kid with the high voice then returns in the next scene, explaining that she’s changed her mind.
“But,” you ask, “what about the dancing?”
I am no expert on dancing, but as impressive as the children’s moves are they don’t come across as particularly polished. It’s like watching college ball instead of the NBA. These kids seem to know what they’re doing, but they’re not at pro level yet. But, if I were a kid who liked dancing, I bet I’d love this film.
Co-written and directed by You Got Served writer/director Chris Stokes the dance scenes get their due. The problem is that Stokes comes up short on so many other details. There are jarring transitions between shaky hand-held close-ups and steady wide shots. The color in the costumes and sets are turned way up, and everyone is always in jarringly full hair and makeup. Put together it comes off looking like a cheap ‘90s TV show.
Also, there’s something less than heroic about watching an ad exec with a DUI win children’s affection because he hires a professional choreographer from his day job. In fact, Marques Houston’s only ever has to be present at events in order to triumph. By the end of the film he’s avoided jail, got the girl, got fired and re-hired, won the kids affection, “helped” the kids win the championship, and repaired not one, but two, families marred by death!
Most of this happens in the last ten minutes.
Battlefield America is rambling, awkward — and the ultimate immature fantasy. It will have its fans, but I am not one of them.