Breakin’ – 1984, Joel Silberg
First of all, please- watch that trailer. Click this. Damn. That’s what we’re dealing with here.
Ever the bold pioneers, Golan-Globus, the same bonkers-ass production house that would later give us Over The Top, the Citizen Cane of competitive arm-wrestling movies, comes cinema’s first and most noteworthy foray into the dog-eat-dog world of street-rat dance-combat; BREAKIN’.
People hated this movie when it came out. I hypothesize that they just could not handle the funk. But let me tell you what, you son of a bitch- we can handle it now.
THE PLOT~ Kelly is a talented young woman with a bright future in the prestigious world of professional dancing, but when her strict-ass Dance instructor makes a pass at her, shes all like ‘No way, bro,” and then she promptly peaces out, at which point she falls in with two ragamuffin break-dancers from the streets named Turbo, and O-Zone. Equal parts inspired and excited by the passion and raw, senseless zazz of these dynamic and probably homeless performers, Kelly joins up with them in hopes of guiding the trio into a successful career in the surprisingly strict world of professional dancing- but is the world ready for poppings and lockings of this magnitude?! Also featuring Shooter McGavin, who is NOT a bad guy in this film! Imagine that!
So, immediately with this movie you’re having an amazing time. It’s visually engaging, the costumes are utterly bananas, and the soundtrack is sorta like what I imagine it would sound like to get locked in Rick James’ closet over the weekend. Some of the names in the credits alone are worth the trip- When you see “Adolfo Shabba-Doo Quinones” and “Michael Boogaloo Shrimp Chambers” in the credits, that’s basically a guarantee that shit’s gonna get cray-cray, and let me tell you, it does; more Moonwalking occurs during the opening credits of this movie than has happened on the surface of the actual moon. It’s intense. This thing is about dancing, first and foremost, and you can count on that being made very clear as the film progresses.
Now, time for absolute transparency; I am not a dancer. I know absolutely nothing about dancing, and I do NOT like dance movies… But I HAVE seen a few, be they your Step Ups, or your Stomp the Yards; and I feel confident when I say that Breakin’ is the best dance movie I have ever seen, and maybe the only one I have actually enjoyed. Credit where credit is due; this shit is full on impressive. Some of this dancing looks impossible, borderline Ray Harryhausen-esque, so maybe some of it has been jazzed up with special effects… I wouldn’t be surprised if there was at least frame rate manipulation, Jackie Chan Style, to help give it that visual pop, but one way or the other, it’s downright cool. Also, if this ISN’T fake, then these people are damn warlocks, and should be treated as superior to the race of Man. Actually, at one point in the film, Turbo DOES dance with an enchanted broom, but I’m totally willing to believe that he can just do that in real life at this point.
In keeping with the 1980’s style-guide for pop and genre movies, Breakin’s aesthetic and technical aspects are mercilessly shinny, which absolutely is appropriate, given the subject matter we’re dealing with. The movie actually looks pretty good for what was likely a pretty small budget, and that’s because Golan-Globus really knew how to get three dollars out of a quarter back in those days. They make it all count, and I think the time has come to emulate some of these magical 80’s tricks into the motion pictures of today…. Because our movies all look like shit now. Why so much steady cam?
However, before anyone thinks I’m submitting this film for admission to The damn Criterion Collection or something; I should point out that Breakin’ is also ridiculous as hell, and I totally acknowledge that. It’s pure 80’s nonsense, complete with training montages, a hillbilly fist fight, “you got served” style dance-off grudge-matches, and the tightest pants I have ever seen on a male in my life. They look like they’re damn painted on by the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue people or something. Honestly, it’s pornographic, these pants.
Casting Breakin’s three lead roles had to have been the single most crucial factor in the success or failure of the film, no question. It actually wouldn’t surprise me if Quinones and Chambers were discovered first, and the script was written with them specifically in mind, because writing a movie like this without talent in place would be risky at best and maddeningly negligent at worst. Finding human beings with screen charisma who could dance this well AND act well enough to carry an entire picture is a task which sounds full on Herculean in nature, so thank goodness for Shabba-Doo and Boogaloo Shrimp, the true saviors of Breakin’, and probably my life, if you get down to it. Lucinda Dickey is an asset to the film as well, but the truth is, she’s the weakest link out of the three. Also, Ice-T is in this movie, too…. Was he the worst rapper of all time, or is that just what rap sounded like in ’84? Rough.
Plot-wise, Breakin’ is silly, cheesy, predictable, and overly sentimental- all things a dance movie should be allowed to be, provided it’s also entertaining, which Breakin’ certainly is. Effectively, this is a feel-good, underdog story about challenging the stodgy old status quo, and the merit in being yourself. It’s a simple, dusty old message, but it’s surprisingly easy to feel good for these guys, because when things finally work out for them, they really do deserve it. For the most part, as long as you don’t go into this determined to have a bad time, Breakin’ is damn effective, and also for sure the greatest movie about challenging the status-quo with the power of dance to have been released in 1984. Oh, shit, Footloose also came out in ’84?!?
It’s more than a little ironic that a movie about being yourself and challenging the outdated status quo failed to succeed in doing so itself when the critics got their talons in it. In the same way that these characters had to struggle to win over their opposition, they’ll have to struggle to win you over, too- for me, it was surprisingly easy to temporary abandon my cynicism and condone such blatant acts of funky tomfoolery. Breakin’ gets my recommendation if you can manage to quiet your inner grump for an hour and a half, and if you happen to enjoy dance movies, holy shit, go watch this.
P.S. Avoid Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo like a pack if wild tigers infected with the black death. It’s such an irredeemable stinker that it will retroactively ruin Breakin’ for you. I’m serious.