Veteran music producer/manager Chris Stokes was one of the first to inaugurate the ongoing dance-film craze with 2003's You Got Served. While intended to draw the same audience, Battlefield America's choreographed showcases are comparatively minimal and poorly filmed. Less interested in the film's sole marketable aspect, Battlefield's focus is on delivering a stern message to black fathers on the importance of staying in their sons' lives. Hot shot ad exec Sean (Marques Houston) gets sentenced to 120 hours of community service for a DUI and ends up leading a troubled clutch of kids. By lecturing them about the importance of a positive attitude and teamwork, this business entrepreneur acts as his creator's mouthpiece while serving as a strong black role model. Slapdashly assembled and lacking in dance thrills, the poorly promoted Battlefield America will drive away the few audiences that show up.
Sean is a callow, tailored-suit dandy racing to the top of his profession. On the verge of making partner, his sentence forces him to obey the instructions of community center educator Sara (Mekia Cox, never seen actually working), who places him in charge of a group of tough kids enrolled in an urban dance program. Led by troubled Eric (Tristen M. Carter), the 8-to-12-year-olds up the Kindergarten Cop ante by kicking Sean in the crotch and punching him in the face shortly after introductions. Inevitably, a bond develops, conveyed in herky-jerky scenes filmed from random angles. (Production values are non-existent, undermining the message of material comfort through attention to detail and hard work.)
Sean takes a special shine to Eric, who's never met his dad. "People just don't know how it feels," the young man says. "I understand exactly how it feels," Sean replies, noting his father walked out when he was 16. It all makes for a solid bonding session, complete with a life-narrative about rising from nothing through internships and hard work. (Such tough-but-successful thought is contrasted with failing or pathetic authority figures, like a ludicrously "hood" parent who shows up and bug-eyedly promises to help "if you ever need me for anything, for real, I swear to God, I mean it.")
Superficial military discipline is imposed (and suggested as an alternative for troubled youth) when Sean has the kids salute him "Yes, sir!" when getting pumped before a dance-off. But even more important than this emphasis on eyes-on-the-prize business mentality is the father-son bond. When Sean short-sightedly chooses to pursue a promotion rather than endangering his job by devoting more time to the kids, he's chided for selfishness and must re-earn their respect by returning and displaying contrition. "I never should've walked up on you guys," he says, acting as an example to any current or potential future delinquent dads in the audience.
Secondary lessons pad out the running time. One mother earnestly says she already "lost" one son who, failing to attain NBA success, became a drug dealer and died on the street, and now has no intent of "losing" another son to dreams of unrealistically attained riches. After seeing him in concert, she changes her mind. "I'll support you in anything you do as long as you put school first," she pledges, affirming the importance of electives balanced with scholastic discipline. Due respect is also paid in passing to God's stabilizing effects in times of tribulation: at a funeral, the camera pans up meaningfully to a sign reading "Have Faith In God, Mark 11:22."
Dance sequences get a new angle every second, though always the same ones (overhead left-right drifting, static low-angle fisheye views emphasizing bodies contorting in choreographed unison, reaction shots of judges delightedly bopping along or shaking their heads in cartoonish disgust). Cutting disrupts continuity, perhaps to disguise the fact that all these young kids can really do is dance in unison: individual feats, the juice of such numbers, are entirely missing. The final product is libertarian-friendly speechifying on the importance of solving social problems through private means and self-responsibility, occasionally interrupted by Lil Jon.
Cast: Marques Houston, Mekia Cox, Tristen M. Carter, Tracey Heggins, Chandler Kinney, Kida Burns
Director: Chris Stokes
Screenwriters: Chris Stokes, Marques Houston
Producers: Sharif Ahmed, Marques Houston, Jerome Jones, J. Christopher Owen, Chris Stokes, Zeus Zamani
Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements involving some drug material, and for some language.
Running time: 106 min.
Release date: June 1 ltd.