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Breakin' / Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo
The brief, glorious heydey of breakdancing cinema
Loves: Movie musicals, ridiculous films, the ‘80s
Likes: Cannon Films films
Dislikes: Dance films
Hates: Unnecessary sequels
For a short, shining moment spanning 1984 to 1985, breakdancing was the focus of a serious film trend. Embracing the energy of a burgeoning hip-hop culture, a quick rush of movies featuring breakdancing flooded onto screens, before disappearing just as quickly, leaving behind a faint memory of linoleum and boomboxes. Though Beat Street, with Rae Dawn Chong, has its fans, the ones everyone remembers are the films first to market, Breakin' and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. These are the defining films of an incredibly niche genre.
Fast-tracked to theaters by legendary B-movie studio Cannon Films to capitalize on breakdancing's growing popularity, Breakin' took a pair of professional breakdancers, Adolfo "Shabba-Doo" Quinones and Michael "Boogaloo Shrimp" Chambers, and paired them with dancer/gymnast Lucinda Dickey (star of Cannon's Ninja III: The Domination) to create a fish-out-of-water story, where jazz dancer Kelly (Dickey) finds her passion dancing with Ozone (Quinones) and Turbo (Chambers), while she brings their street dancing into her more-formal world. The story is somewhat secondary to the dancing, with little in the way of plot, outside of the culture clash between Ozone's crew and Kelly's teacher and the idea of a big audition for the three dancers, engineered by Kelly's agent James (played by Christopher McDonald of Requiem for a Dream and Happy Madison fame.)
That's fine though, as you're here for the dancing, which is pretty awesome all around, including some "spectacular" background work by a young Jean Claude Van Damme (if you've been on the internet, you've probably seen the gif.) The influence of Cannon heads Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus is obvious in the homage to Fred Astaire in one of the best sequences, as Turbo dances with a broom outside of the store he works in late at night, a rather lovely blending of old-school dance and breakdancing. There are other big dance numbers, including plenty of montages of rehearsals and performances, with some rather impressive moves that still hold up over 30 years later (even if the fashion on display is hilariously over the top. God bless the ‘80s.)
What doesn't work is the dance "fights" between our heroes and their rival crew. Staged as if they are martial arts battles, they just seem ridiculous. In fact, none of the drama surrounding the two groups of foes ever feels legitimate, since it always just resolves via dance. Most of the film exists in a realm of relative reality (like an amusing scene in which Ozone and Turbo try to mingle at an upper-crust cocktail party, but are treated like novelties), but it's hard to believe that when two gangs get in each other's faces, shoving and pushing, that some sick popping and locking will settle everything, no matter what Ice-T (making his film debut) might say as MC.
In this film, Kelly has left the group to pursue work as a stage dancer and has found a level of success. But when her show ends, she goes back to visit with the guys, much to the chagrin of her rich parents, who hate to see her slumming with Ozone and Turbo, who have started a community center called Miracles, where they teach dancing. The community center however is in danger of being torn down by a real-estate developer, unless they can come up with the money to pay for necessary repairs. So it's time for a fundraiser!
There are even two separate scenes with Turbo simply watching a cute Latina girl dance in order to establish that he likes her. (The character plays a key part in one of the film's more hilariously bad touches, as the actress didn't speak Spanish, so her dialogue is ADR'd in with a shocking lack of connection to the film.) There is one plot-motivated dance scene (aside from the necessary [and lengthy] climactic segment) and that's a scene where Ozone, using a life-sized female doll (?) shows Turbo how to dance with the girl he likes. The scene cuts between the two guys, Kelly and the he girl and the doll, in a clever bit of editing, though the scene ultimately ends up just weird.
Though Breakin' 2 is shoddily constructed, a point one can easily blame on the production schedule or simply the basis for its existence, it's mostly just silly fun (when not failing to get serious with a tender scene between Ozone and Kelly or a threat to Kelly from Ozone's ex.) And with the fundraiser plot device, it's got the kind of crowd-pleasing, feel-good storyline the ‘80s offered frequently. It's all spectacle, it's all meaningless. But it's eminently watchable.
Breakin' and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo arrive on one Blu-ray Disc, packed into a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a reversible cover that has the original poster art for each film on the inside. Static menus using offer a choice to watch the film, select scenes, adjust the set-up and check out the special features. There are no audio options but subtitles are available in English SDH.
The 1080p, AVC-encoded transfers (letterboxed 1.85:1 on Breakin', 1.71:1 on the sequel) here look pretty great, capturing all the bold colors of the era well without falling over into bleeds, while the level of fine detail lets you truly appreciate the time-frame's devotion to over-accessorization, as you'll easily see every waist chain and ear cuff on display (and check out whatever the hell it is the Ice-T is wearing.) There's appropriate grain on the image, which is sharp and free of any notable defects.
Both films feature DTS-HD 2.0 tracks, which sound rather nice, though the volume level could have been a touch higher, forcing me to crank my system to get the audio pumping. Separation isn't always present, letting the music sometimes overwhelm the dialogue, but for the most part the tracks are solid and clean in a center-balanced presentation. .
The majority of the extras are carried over from the original MGM DVDs. Breakin' only sports the original theatrical trailer, which raps about the film. Breakin' 2 also offers a theatrical trailer, which follows the same formula as the first one. Also included are a trio of full-frame featurettes from 2003, which feature interviews with people involved in hip-hop dancing (who are likely unknown to most people watching the films.) Up first is "The Elements of Hip-Hop," (21:36) which breaks down key parts of the world the movie explores, including B-boy dancing, graffiti, crews and DJing. It's followed by "The Culture of Hip-Hop" (18:32) which looks at the growth of the movement from its origins in the Bronx to its representation in the media and the difference between rap and hip-hop. Wrapping up the featurettes is the pretty pointless "Shout-Outs," (4:28) which lets the interview participants from the previous pieces give those titular shout-outs to whoever they feel like. Curious that anyone ever thought this was a good idea.
Also brought back from the MGM discs is a music video for the song "We Will Not Be Destroyed" from the group Living Legends (4:19), which features plenty of breakdancing footage. It's not a bad song, but not one you'll be adding to your iTunes anytime soon.
The one new extra on this release is easily the best one, as there's a feature-length audio commentary on Breakin 2 from Firstenberg, Quinones and editor Marcus Manton. Manton only chimes in occasionally, but Firstenberg and Quinones, both of whom bring upbeat personalities to the track, have plenty to say, with the director often serving to guide the discussion and Quinones offering personal remembrances. Production details and stories from the set are the order of the day as the two reminisce, including plenty of talk about working for Golan and Globus, all of which makes for a fun and informative listen, especially if you ever wanted to know where the first Western Jewish community was.
The Bottom Line
Neither of the films in this set are very good, but they are entertaining, with Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, being far and away the more enjoyable of the two. You have to have an appreciation for the ‘80s and a tolerance for ridiculousness to get the most out of them though. Leave your earnestness at the door. Shout! Factory has done a fine job delivering the films in HD, and though most of the extras are just carry-overs from the previous DVD, the new commentary is a fine addition. If you have fond memories of Breakin' 2, definitely add this one to your collection, but newcomers may want to tip their toe in first.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.