EVERETT — There’s nothing novel about the plot of “Battlefield America” — which opened Friday. Los Angeles marketing executive Sean (Marques Houston) gets pulled over for driving under the influence and has to work off his sentence at a local community center, where he falls in love with the beautiful Sarah (Mekia Cox) and turns a bunch of underprivileged children into the winners of the mythical title dance competition.
What’s new is that Battlefield America is a battle among young hip-hop crews. And three members of the cast are from the Boston area: Russell Ferguson, 22, from Roxbury; Kyle Brooks, 16, from Fall River; and Edward Mandell, 13, from Sharon. They have gathered at the kids’ spiritual home, Phunk Phenomenon Dance Complex, in Everett, to talk about the movie and about their love of dance.
The three were not exactly plucked from obscurity. Ferguson, whose specialty is krumping, won the season six edition of “So You Think You Can Dance,” in fall 2009. Brooks and Mandell have been members of Phunk Phenomenon’s Lil Phunk team, which performs at Boston Celtics home games. They were also part of the Lil Phunk Boyz crew that won gold in the junior division at the 2009 USA and World Hip Hop Championships in Las Vegas.
Still, how did the kids make it into “Battlefield America”? Ferguson has a simple answer: “They’re dope!”Brooks elaborates. “The director [Chris Stokes] found a choreographer, Kolanie Marks,” he says, “and I think the director asked him if he knew any dancers who can act.”
Reia Briggs-Connor, who owns Phunk Phenomenon, explains, “Kolanie is a friend of mine, and we competed against his team, RNG, in the Hip Hop International. So he looked at our video and pointed out who he wanted. These two were fortunate enough to go to Los Angeles. It was a risk, but their moms agreed to it, their dads agreed to it, and they went out and gave it a shot.”
Mandell’s mother, Janette Mandell, went with them. “We were out there for close to six weeks,” she says. “The casting director told me, ‘You have to be on set and be with them at rehearsals 24/7.’ So it was a big commitment.”
Brooks and Mandell wound up as members of the Bang Squad, Battlefield America’s defending champions, and the team that Sean’s Bad Boys crew has to beat. Brooks’s character, Roger, is the one with the big blond mohawk. Mandell’s character, Marv, is the one who, in a confrontation at a fast-food restaurant, gets punched by Bad Boys leader Eric (Tristen M. Carter).