Breakin' - 1984
See link for "writing" team
Directed by Joel Silberg
With Adolfo "Shabba-Doo" Quinones, Michael "Boogaloo Shrimp" Chambers & Lucinda Dickey
In 1984, break dancing was a budding cultural sensation. Orion Films had a break dancing/hip-hop culture movie in production called "Beat Street," but Menahem Golan, ever the arts patron, was determined to get a break dancing film to the screen first, and he did. Breakin' beat Beat Street to theaters by a month, and it's alleged to be Cannon Films' most financially profitable film ever.
I mean, sure, it's cheaply made and poorly acted with a totally generic "dance movie" story, but relative to what I have learned to expect from Cannon Films films, it's actually pretty comprehensible, it's got some personality, and the dancing is mighty entertaining.
In short, Breakin' is every dance movie ever made. Someone told someone that they can't dance, and so they're gonna show THEM, with the power of dance!
On one side of the story, we have Kelly, a struggling dancer of the more traditional variety. She seems to be getting close to her big break, or is her instructor just trying to break into that shiny, shiny, oh so shiny 1980s leotard?
On the other side of the story, there's Ozone and Turbo, a couple of street dancers who do what they do out of the pure love of dance. Ozone seems to suffer from some type of stage fright or conflict avoidance. Every time they're challenged by a dickish rival dance team, Ozone shuts down and leaves himself open to the harshest of "servings."
Kelly meets Ozone & Turbo through a mutual friend (who frankly, really gets left out of things), and rediscovers her passion for dance. They work together to create a unique mix of old and new styles that win over the doubters from the street to the stage -- once the street dancers learn to accept the white girl who doesn't understand their ways. There's also a totally awkward romantic sub-plot about Ozone like-liking Kelly, which plays uncomfortably against the way that men keep hitting on her in really inappropriate ways. It's used to stir intra-dance-squad tension, and is ultimately dropped when it comes time to wrap things up neatly. The story is very hokey. Like I said, it's every dance movie ever.
The acting does little to help the story. Ozone and Turbo reveal a lot of personality when they're working together, but they noticeably stiffen in scenes with Kelly. The actors have made little secret of their resentment about working with Lucinda Dickey (Kelly) who didn't come from a hip-hop background, which was also part of the story that Dickey has said "rang true." I'm prepared to accept the acting because I understand that most of the cast was selected for their dancing more than their acting.
In fact, the biggest way in which Breakin' falls short is the time it wastes on poorly delivered story when it could have had another dance number. The dancing has more variety to it than you'd guess. There's plenty of breakin', of course, but Kelly brings some variety to the mix and one of the stand out numbers is a quiet little bit of Buster Keaton-esque schtick that Turbo does with a broom. Some numbers are more authentically "street" and some are clearly cheesy Hollywood reinterpretations of "street" in a staged "dance number" context.
The music shows its age more than the dancing does. It's the kind of very synth-heavy hip-hop that tended to go with breaking, so in that respect its appropriate, but there's a reason hip-hop grew into sampling throughout the 80s and left the Casio beats behind until DJs started writing ringtones. During the big hip-hop showdown, musical guest and "OG" rapper Ice-T shows up to remind us why we like him better on Law & Order.
Breakin' does ONE thing new (and well), and that's to give the world one of its first long looks at break dancing. The rest of it isn't new at all, although it was newer in 1984 than it is after 5 Step Up movies, 3 StreetDances, 3 You Got Served movies, 2 Save the Last Dances, 2 Honeys, 2 ABCDs and a surprising lot more. I'm ready for Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo next. The rest will have to wait.