by Linda Holmes
I have to say, until last night, I didn't even realize that the star of an '80s movie about break-dancing would be a girl who looked like Sheena Easton's Mini-Me and was once the third-runner-up for Miss Kansas.
It's easy to see how it happened: "You know who we need to get for our break-dancing movie in which we defend the artistic importance of the pounding rhythm of the authentic dance of the streets? Shabba-Doo and the woman who was three heartbeats away from becoming Miss Kansas."
Believe it or not, Wikipedia claims that Breakin' is a retelling of West Side Story. I assure you that this is not true. (Just when you think Wikipedia is an impeccable source of information!) I did notice during the movie that Miss Kansas' agent -- we'll get back to him -- had a West Side Story revival poster behind his desk. Given that this movie is so cheap-looking that they clearly wouldn't have paid for so much as a plastic ficus if it didn't have a specific reason for needing to be there, it's certainly not an accident. It's a (rather overly ambitious) hat-tip. But this is not even meant to be a retelling of West Side Story. There is not enough death. At least not enough literal death.
The movie starts with Kelly (played by the aforementioned former almost-Miss Kansas, Lucinda Dickey) working as a waitress in a cheap restaurant, where she runs into a friend. The friend despairs that Kelly isn't dancing at the moment (Kelly is very talented, a piece of information that must be passed along as exposition, as it will not necessarily be self-evident at any point during the movie) and encourages her to get in touch with an agent who can get her some work.
Meanwhile, Kelly is taking jazz classes with Franco, a teacher who looks a little like Luke Perry plus ten years, four divorces and a DWI. Franco clearly is not to be trusted. He wears his super-intense Sexyface all the time, forever leering at Kelly in her classic '80s dance look of a black unitard and what appears to be hot pink underwear worn outside it. He cannot resist her. He says things while they are dancing together like, "Caress me! More passion!" (He says "Caress me." I swear.)
Can Kelly fight off the skeevy dance teacher? What will happen when she encounters street dancing? And what is with the pants in this movie? More, after the jump...
But Kelly just wants to be friends with Franco, because while she is no genius (a plot point that will recur), once he dances her into the big mirror, pins her there, and plants a great big smooch on her, she begins to catch on that his forehead might as well be flashing "GREAT BIG SKEEVY CREEP."
Kelly's best friend is Adam, who is played by someone named Phineas Newborn III. Kelly calls him "Cupcakes," and believe me when I tell you that her explanation, which is that he's cute as a cupcake, is not at all necessary. The character of Cupcakes comes straight (ahem) out of every mid-'80s cliché about what a best-pal male dancer who is not a love interest and is named "Cupcakes" might be like. If you get my lavender-wearing meaning.
It is also here that I must tell you, as delicately as I can, that Cupcakes wears what I can only call the most explicit pants I have ever seen in a movie. No fooling. And it's not just the pants for dancing, which you might expect to be fairly explicit, as are most dance-y pants. Cupcakes wears very, very explicit jeans as well, to the point where he simply appeared on screen at one point, doing nothing remotely comedic, to a sudden burst of hysterical laughter of the audience with which I enjoyed the show. And as much as I'd like to judge, I can't even blame them for being juvenile, because those are some explicit pants.
Anyhoo, Cupcakes takes Kelly to meet some of his break dancing buddies, the most relevant of whom turn out to be Ozone and Turbo, played by the actually talented Adolfo "Shabba-Doo" Quinones and Michael "Boogaloo Shrimp" Chambers, respectively. Of the two, Ozone is the knowledgeable, responsible Fonzie, and Turbo is the young, fresh, devil-may-care Chachi.
(You will notice that real-life break dancers have actual cool names like "Shabba-Doo" and "Boogaloo Shrimp," while movie break dancers have lame names like "Ozone" and "Turbo," which sound like street names created by a subcommittee of the Unified Brotherhood Of People Who Can Only Clap On The Downbeat.)
Kelly befriends Ozone and Turbo, who seem to like her in spite of the fact that when they meet her, she proceeds to commit acts of dancing so square that you could use her to align the studs to frame a house. This friendship develops just in time for Kelly to see them lose a dance-rumble to their arch rivals (you can tell Kelly is new to "the scene," because she wears a button-down blue Oxford shirt to the rumble, which: faux pas). This happens because said arch rivals introduce a secret weapon: A GIRL.
So now Ozone and Turbo need a girl, and Kelly naturally volunteers. So they teach her poppin', lockin', and sparkle-wearin'. And indeed, they taste sweet victory in the rematch -- as a rapper by the name of Ice-T provides the tunes.
But by this time, there is a complication! Kelly has connected with an agent, who is played by the one person in the movie who is recognizable as an actor (unless you consider Ice-T's work on Law & Order: SVU "acting"). The agent is played by the very, very young version of the ubiquitous Christopher McDonald, who has almost 150 IMDB credits since the late 1970s. And the agent, James, has a little crush on Kelly. This is really getting under the skin of Ozone, who has developed his own little crush on her. So now Ozone is jealous, and he leaves the second battle victorious but in a huff.
It only gets worse after Kelly invites Ozone and Turbo to a fancy party where James wants to introduce the group to some important people, now that he is convinced that their "street dancing" can make them stars. It is a party so fancy that only people wearing giant blazers with bagel-sized shoulder pads and the sleeves rolled up to the elbows are invited. Ozone does not fit in! He is taunted by Franco The Abruptly Revived Antagonist! He feels sneered at by the wealthy! He stomps off, taking a reluctant Turbo with him!
Unbowed by Ozone's 'tude, James vows to arrange for the group to perform at an audition for a Broadway show. Why a couple of break dancing guys want to be in a Broadway show is not entirely clear, nor is whether they are trying to convince the makers of the Broadway show to change it into a break dancing exhibition or whether they are trying to position themselves as jazz dancers of the future, but James is trying to get them the audition. Unfortunately, it turns out that the vindictive Franco is highly influential and pulls all the strings with the powerful audition-holders. He doesn't want street dancing sharing a stage with his super-intense Sexyface choreography, because it would be undignified.
But by this time, the group has worked too hard to give up -- during an important training montage, they even teach James himself to moonwalk, which is a moment that should definitely be used for Christopher McDonald's (hopefully many-years-off) "In Memoriam" moment at the Oscars.
So naturally, like any plucky manager in a highly unlikely movie about defying authority, James has a nutty idea that just might work. He dresses Kelly, Ozone and Turbo in tuxes and disguises them as a group of dancers who prefer to perform in tuxes. Very convincing.
Sadly, when they arrive at the audition, they run into Franco, of all people. And he's in the middle of his audition with his group. Franco and friends are the swaggering bullies of the picture, you see, which you can tell from the fact that they are performing a highly emotional cowboy ballet at the time Kelly and her crew arrive. (I'm never sure whether it will seem like I am making any of this up for effect: I am saying -- cowboy ballet.)
Franco spots them and knows those tuxes are just a ruse, so he tells the judges that despite their formal appearance, they are not jazz dancers -- they are STREET DANCERS. So the head judge pulls the plug on their audition. Note that not only is the head judge an elderly stick in the mud; he actually has white mutton chops, meaning that he is judging jazz dancers, but looks like he's about to preside over the First Thanksgiving.
Well, Ozone is not having any of this. When the judges try to dismiss him and say, "Who's next?" he steps forward and yells, "OZONE!" And then he walks over to the judges' table and says, "Street dancer!" And then walks down the table and stares at them, really hard, one by one. And he rips the sleeves off his tux jacket. And then he rips the sleeves off his tux shirt. (Somehow, his music has started.) And then he rips a white piece of fabric off of himself somewhere and determinedly ties it around his head like a bandanna. He will dance for you, whether you like it or not!
And then there is dancing. The judges are naturally horrified at first. Head Judge Miles Standish yells at Ozone to stop. Stop immediately! I demand you stop immediately, young man! Ozone does not stop. And then, like a miracle, one of the other judges opens his heart. He puts a hand on Head Judge Miles Standish's arm and says, "Wait." And they watch. And Turbo and Kelly join Ozone. None can deny their talent! Finally, Head Judge Miles Standish pauses, squints his eyes slightly, and says, "Maybe." They continue to dance. The female judge chair-dances to the music. Franco tries to interrupt their performance and call a halt to the whole thing, but they jump on the table all around him! He is forced to retreat! He will have to find another place to practice cowboy ballet! They win!
And the next thing you know, they are all performing in some sort of break-dance-inspired Broadway show, and Kelly still looks like she just got here from a Noxema commercial.
So in the end, what of Breakin'? There's certainly plenty of entertaining dancing in the movie from both Shabba-Doo and Boogaloo Shrimp, along with a small gaggle of children Turbo is teaching the tricks of the trade.
Everything else is uniformly terrifying, including the wardrobe. (At one point, Kelly is taking a dance class in an outfit that seems to be inspired by a red polo shirt with a unitard over it. I am saying: PO. LO. SHIRT. It is not a good idea.)
And tonight, I hope to learn more about what happens to all these fascinating characters in Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo.