Review of Battlefield America


Movie Review: Battlefield America

--Rating: PG 13 (strong language, mild sexuality and adult situations, drug use)
Length: 106 minutes
Release Date: June 1, 2012
Directed by: Chris Stokes
Genre: Drama, Musical

"Battlefield America," directed and co-written by Chris Stokes (You Got Served), is the story of an underdog preteen dance team preparing to compete in a huge dance competition.

This is an urban dance film co-written by Marques Houston ("Fat Albert," "Somebody Help Me") who stars as Sean, a selfish executive on his way up the ladder at a Los Angeles marketing firm. Just as Sean is about to make partner, he's arrested for drinking while driving. He avoids jail by agreeing to complete some community service. This finds him at a local community center where he's assigned by the center's director, Ms. Parker (Lynn Whitfield, "All Things Fall Apart," "Mama I Want to Sing"), to be a mentor to a group of boys. Sean hates kids and resents the obligation forced on him. The kids aren't impressed with their mentor either, because it's clear that Sean has no dance experience and is of little help to their goal.

Instead of trying to learn how to help the kids, Sean brings in a professional in the form of Prime (Russell Ferguson, former winner on television's "So You Think You Can Dance"). Sean spends the time saved by hiring Prime romancing center's director, Sarah Miller (Mekia Cox, "Crazy, Stupid, Love," "I Kissed a Vampire").

Sean does eventually accept responsibility and begins to take an active role with the kids, and they prepare to dance off against the rival dance team "Bang Squad" at the ultimate dance competition, Battlefield America.

The difference between this film and others like it is that the drama is in the story, not the dancing. Although there are a lot of them, the dance scenes aren't the primary focus of the film. The dramatic high point is when Sean is chastised by his bosses at his firm for not going after an important and lucrative account. Thinking he's doing the right thing, Sean tells Sarah and the kids that he's decided to return to work, before the kids have even competed. Their disappointment is palpable. The team still has a long way to go, and without him, they doubt they'll have a shot at winning the competition.

The story eventually leads to the Los Angeles Staples Center, where the kids' parents are screaming in the audience, and the kids are in the Battlefield America finale. One major question might be where the parents were throughout the film as their absence does put the plausibility of the story on shaky ground. However, the details of Sean's life and his personal growth as he works with the kids would not have been shown as deeply had the film's writers focused on the backstories of the kids as well. Because the focus is not on the dancing but on Sean's personal journey, this decision makes sense.

While the plot of "Battlefield America" is admittedly thin, and only a small amount of the spotlight is given to the younger stars, the message of the film is clear: "Battlefield America" is intended to be a feel-good story about the healing power of art in the form of dance. It's also a story of personal growth, as Sean learns "things" are not as valuable as people. He forms a special bond with one boy, Eric Smith (Tristen M. Carter), a child scarred by a drug-addicted mother and an absent father, who covers his pain and confusion with biting sarcasm and sass.

Overall the film is not intended for adults. It's a movie meant for kids around the same ages as the dancers, and although the younger stars of "Battlefield America" are largely unknown, their skill is obvious and might have more opportunity to shine in future films. The dance sequences are high energy, and the issues brought up along the way (absent fathers, drug-addiction and poverty) are heavy. Stokes opted to treat the issues with kid gloves, never exploring them in any detail, but this was a wise decision. "Battlefield America" is a film about beating the odds and meant to leave the viewer with a smile. Too much delving into the larger issues would have taken that smile away.

While some viewers might feel the plot and the eventual romances between Sean and Sarah, and Eric and Ms. Parker's niece Chantel (Chandler Kinney) to be on the clich├ęd side, the performances given by the stars of "Battlefield America" are impressive. The dance teams perform with heart, and the adult stars deliver all-round solid performances.

Rating: 3 out of 5