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Originally published Friday, June 1, 2012 at 11:46 AM

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Movie review

'Battlefield America': OK dance-offs, bad movie

"Battlefield America," about inner-city kids training for a dance competition, is basically stage-parented poseurs playing at being punks, mugging for the camera and talking sass to every adult — not most people's idea of time well spent at the movies.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Movie review 1 stars

'Battlefield America,' with Marques Houston, Mekia Cox, Lynn Whitfield, Tristen M. Carter, Zach Belandres. Directed by Chris Stokes. 105 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements involving some drug material, and for some language. Alderwood Mall 16 and Parkway Plaza 12.

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There's something just adorable about pampered, precious child dancers grabbing their crotches, swearing, striking street-punk poses and trash-talking after a hot routine on the break-dance floor. The little darlings, you just want to pinch their cheeks and make'em pull up their pants.

That's the appeal of "Battlefield America," a "You Got Served" about kiddie krunkers in Los Angeles and the upper-class ad-man (Marques Houston) who is forced to do community service by training them for the big dance battle — "Battlefield America."

Sean Lewis (Houston) is a rising star in the advertising world, but a little too fond of driving his Porsche a little too fast (and a little too tipsy). He can't pay a fine and get out of his troubles with the law, so it's off to the community center run by the stunning Sarah (Mekia Cox). He's got a choice — pick up trash, or teach these six misfit hood rats to dance well enough to compete.

Sean hires a pro choreographer, because that's what professionals do — bring in other professionals to do their work for them. "I hate kids," he says, by way of explanation. He's got to get over that, put some leadership skills to work on this kid crew and make them respect themselves and him.

The film, co-written by Houston and director Chris Stokes ("You Got Served"), strains to come up with obstacles to keep the story going until the inevitable conclusion.

The kids are a generic assortment of moppet thugs, often letting their dance battles spill over into tweenage violence. They need to learn to check themselves before they wreck themselves. They're disadvantaged, and the film brushes over that aspect of their lives. It has other things to fill its 100 minutes.

Sean has to flirt with Ms. Sarah. ("Sorry, Mr. Lewis, but I don't date criminals.")

And the Bad Boyz crew has to master its moves, find that missing ingredient that will make them winners.

The thinly drawn characters (especially the kids) have abrupt changes of heart simply to serve this simplistic script. The film's formula will only be fresh to kids without much movie-going experience.

There are worse subjects you could choose to make a kids' movie about and worse ways to make it. But watching stage-parented poseurs play at being punks, mugging for the camera and talking sass to every adult, is not most people's idea of time well spent at the movies.

Sure, it's got a little zeitgeist going for it, here in Gotta Dance Nation. Yeah, they know how to shoot it — straight up, low angle, center stage, with occasional overhead shots catching the group choreography. The trick is, to get a movie out of what happens in between the dance-offs. "Battlefield America" is at its dullest off that battlefield.

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