There are many terrible dance movies out there. There are far fewer good dance movies. The first Step Up movie is pretty fantastic. The others, however, are not.
Planet B-Boy is a documentary directed by Benson Lee that was released in 2005. It followed the evolution of Breakdancing (or b-boying) from the early 80s to a dance fad that has covered the entire world. There are now international dance competitions for b-boying, and Lee’s documentary helped bring awareness of them.
Lee then realized that he could potentially roll his documentary into a feature film following the crew from America heading over to an international competition.
The drama comes from the fact that America created b-boying, but has not won the competition in 15 years. Incidentally, the Battle of the Year seems to be a real international b-boy competition. The sponsor for the American team, Dante, is a hip-hop mogul who decides we need to win back the title, and brings in his old b-boy partner, who had been a very winning basketball coach until a tragedy caused him to give up on life. Once the coach steps in, he brings with him the mentality of the 1992 Men’s Olympic Basketball team.
Previous to 1992, America had been sending exclusively college players to the Olympics. We had created basketball, but we were losing, as other countries were routinely sending their professionals – some of which that played in the NBA here in the states. In 1988 we finished third. In 1992, the decision was made to send the very best of our professional players – who promptly became nicknamed the Dream Team. Essentially at the time, they were the greatest sports team ever assembled, and they defeated their opponents by an average of 44 points per game, easily winning the gold medal.
Josh Holloway’s character in this movie brings that same idea to his dance crew. He fires the current squad on hand, which has not won, and has open auditions for dancers from across the country. This leaves him with a ‘dream team’ of b-boyers. He then starts working on turning these individual dance stars into a team. He moves them into a former juvenile detention center and gets them up early every day for practice. You can see where this is going, right? There are tons of initial fights, because the group doesn’t get along, and each dancer believes that he is better than everyone else.
There are all the stereotypical characters, and they have the stereotypical first ‘friendly’ match, which they lose because they didn’t function as a team. They work out their differences, pull together, and head over to the competition.
Essentially – I feel like this movie is the dance version of Best of the Best,which is one of my favorite movies of all time. Seriously – it’s almost the same exact plot. James Earl Jones’s “…a team is not a team if you don’t give a damn about one another…” speech would have fit perfectly in here. Holloway's character even has rules similar to Jones's rules; "Dont' be late - don't EVER be late..." So, I guess spoiler alert – if you know how Best of the Best finishes with our competition with the Korean team, you know how this movie finishes.
In terms of the cast – the majority of it is actual dancers, not actors – so you get what you expect.
- Josh Holloway plays Jason Blake, the tragic coach figure. His wife and child tragically died, and he’s retreated to inside a bottle, and this represents a chance for him to get his life back. You’ve seen that done 100 times before, and probably 87% of those were better than this. Essentially Dante hires him because they used to b-boy together back in the day. Where was that footage? What at no point in this movie do we see Josh Holloway Breakdance? That’s a shame.
- Laz Alonso plays Dante Graham, who says all the stereo typical things that the sponsor/backer says in movies like this. He shows up here and there to motivate Holloway, question his methods, inspire the team by bringing in one of their heroes, and give them new warm-ups.
- Josh Peck plays Franklyn “with a Y”. He says that too many times to count in this movie. He does not get to dance at all – he’s the assistant basically. He does deliver his dialogue the same way he did in that terrible Red Dawn remake – at a loud whisper.
- Caity Lotz plays Stacy, the choreographer. She has only a couple of scenes, so I can’t tell you if she’s any good as an actress, and we didn’t really get to see her dance all that much, so who knows. She and Holloway have one little dinner-date scene once they get overseas. Maybe that relationship will be fleshed out in the sequel. I’m kidding; this is not getting a sequel.
- Chris Brown plays Rooster, in what I’m sure is stunt casting. Surely there are better b-boys out there that would have been better. And he’s not that great an actor – although there is one scene where he tries really hard. Just for fun, during that scene, pretend Rhianna’s Take a Bow is playing over that scene. The release of the movie was delayed for a year plus, which may have been to let some of the media heat over Chris Brown’s public nonsense cool down, but the problem is, he’s so often doing nonsense in public, it never really cools down. Takers had a delay for the same reason. At least that movie was better.
- The rest of the cast is all made of up b-boys who basically play themselves. Dominic from So You Thing You Can Dance fame shows up, as well as a few others you may recognize. Ivan ‘Flipz’ Velez, Jon ‘Do Knock’ Cruz, Anis Cheurfa, Jesse ‘Casper’ Brown, David Shreibman, Sawandi Wilson, and Richard Maguire are just a few of them. They each get a little character defining moment, and then payoff to that moment.
The movie is incredibly formulaic, unoriginal, and standard. The dancing is great – I wish there had been a little bit more of it, but that may have been strategic. The first time we see our crew perform an entire routine is their opening at the big championships. It’s not great, but it is fun to make fun of – and yes, the dancing is wonderful. See it with some friends, and laugh at it all the way through.
5 out of 10 – and I’m being generous, but it did make me laugh here and there – but I was laughing at it, not with it. Lost major points for not featuring any b-girls, and I know there are some awesome ones out there. Gained points for Holloway’s commitment to the character we’ve seen over and over again, and even more than that, his refusal to put any kind of new or personal touch into this very repeated character. Lost points for Franklyn constantly reminding us of the same things over and over again; he’s Jewish, he can’t dance, and it’s Franklyn with a Y. Gained points for the dancing at the end – but really, you could have extended that sequence and let us watch all the countries perform. Lost points for Chris Brown - Deuces!
Bonus Video 1: Dominic on SYTYCD
Bonus Video 2: If you are in Vegas, be sure to see the Jabbawockeez show – current b-boy excellence begins and ends with them.
Bonus Video 3: Takers, check this movie out – it’s sort of the male version of Set It Off, but not as good.
Bonus Video 4: Cast Interviews