Battleship America, not to be mistaken with the equally difficult to watch Battleship (starring Rihanna), opens this week and invites the viewer to dance in the shoes of urban youths in Long Beach, CA.
The film was co-written by director Chris Stokes (You Got Served) and lead actor Marques Houston (best known for the 90’s TV hit Sister,Sister). The story follows Sean Lewis (Houston), a charismatic and successful businessman on the brink of being made company partner at his firm. He is self-proclaimed ‘good at everything’. But an early celebration of his promotion leads do a DUI, and he finds himself forced to complete community service to avoid jail time.
He must balance working his full time job- keeping his situation a secret until he is officially made partner- and working at the community center. He arrives to the first day of his new job dressed to the nines, to the amusement of the ‘front desk lady’ who also runs the center, Sarah Miller (Mekia Cox, Undercovers). He tries to charm her with his smooth talking and good looks, but she is a no-nonsense woman who sees through his bravado to the self-absorbed person he really is. She aptly gives him trash duty. After tiring of his complaints, Sarah offers him the only other job she needs filled- the dance teacher.
Sean reluctantly takes the position coaching a group of misfits. It’s ego meets attitude and it is clear the boys dislike Sean as much as he does them. However, a pesky case worker, Ms. Parker (Lynn Whitfield), stops by periodically to ensure Sean is fulfilling his obligations or threatens to sentence him to cell time.
The plot becomes pretty predictable. Sean higher a professional dancer (Russell Freguson, So You Think You Can Dance) to help him bring the boys from electric slide to Michael Jackson in a matter of weeks. They select an apt crew name “The Bad Boys” and Sean forms a special bond with one of the kids, Eric (Tristen M. Carter). Similarly he falls hard for Sarah, who’s tough exterior softens when she sees Sean’s true colors. Then comes the expected twist.
Just when everything is almost perfect, Sean has completed his service and his boss threatens to fire him for being less than stellar at work lately. Sean abandons the kids and the girl to get his career back on track but quickly regrets his decision.
You guessed, it’s the ‘boy gets girl back’ part of the story. Sean shows up in time for the final Battlefield America competition (complete with limos, suits, and swagger for the team entrance). The main issue with the film is the audience isn’t given enough information about what exactly Battelfield America is to really care. It’s like rooting for the underdog in the Super Bowl but thinking the Super Bowl is your average Saturday afternoon flag foot ball game. Until we get to the final scenes in the film, which take place in a grandiose Staples Center-like arena (though it looks more like a high school gym inside), we don’t really grasp the importance of the competition…other than bragging rights on the school yard. However, it is apparently a legitimate competition with a prize that earns money for the winning crews community center, not just street cred!
The story is strewn with smaller, albeit pointless, plot lines- Sarah’s niece Chantel has a simultaneous crush on Eric; rival crew Bang Squad coach Hank ‘The Shockwave’ Adams’ leads by egging on his team’s childish taunts (think Johnny from The Karate Kid or Biff from Back to the Future); the death and subsequent return of Eric’s absentee father; the threat of losing team member Jeremiah when his mother threatens to pull him from dance for fear he is throwing his future away and will turn to gangs later (but then doesn’t); and the supportive secretary and unsupportive co-worker who play angel and devil to Sean’s decisions. In the end, these storylines don’t do much to serve the plot because the audience was lost from the beginning.
Cliche dialogue, low production value, overt exposition, and a predictable story have added too much weight for this script to soar. I can’t help but think there might be a movie to be made about urban kids who find solace in dance and compete to win a national hip hop dance competition. I just don’t think this film is it.
Also, I kept finding myself wondering if this world really exists. Small children, out way past any reasonable bedtime, stomping around abandoned warehouses and parking lots and stepping to each other like gang members in training. Really? The other burning question for me was who is this PG-13 rated film (following the life of pre-teens) really targeting?
The film did succeed at one thing- the heartfelt message that Sean manages to teach these kids. He shows these ‘losers’ how to find the confidence within themselves to be winners and beat their nemesis (they are the victors of Battelfield America). Similarly, Sean has won a second a chance at life realizing that career success and material posessions are not the only thing in life that matters.
At the heart of the film is dance. The movie certainly dance a great job and finding young talent. It was impressive to see such young dancers with so much skill. However, dimly lit scenes, sound effects, and purposely jerky editing, made it hard at times to even clearly see these coveted dance moves which I’m sure took hours and hours of choreography and shot planning.
I wanted to like this film, and it has its genuine moments, but it was certainly a battle to get through. You might be just as happy if you mistakenly wandered into Battleship instead.
Watch the trailer here.