I Watched This On Purpose: Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo

I Watched This On Purpose: Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo

 

Sometimes, even The A.V. Club isn't impervious to the sexy allure of ostensible cultural garbage. Which is why there's I Watched This On Purpose, our feature exploring the impulse to spend time with trashy-looking yet in some way irresistible entertainments, playing the long odds in hopes of a real reward. And a good time.

Cultural infamy: 1984's Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo contributed precisely one thing to the cultural zeitgeist that the far more successful Breakin' hadn't already provided: a zingy subtitle that could be added to the end of virtually any sequel. To this day, children of the '80s still frequently reference, say, Saw 2: Electric Boogaloo or The Hills Have Eyes 2: Electric Boogaloo, largely because of the built-in catchy rhyme and sheer silliness value. The gag comes up routinely and randomly, via sources from Mr. Show to Family Guy. In a recent online chat with Lord Of The Rings fans, Guillermo Del Toro even joked that H2: Electric Boogaloo had been rejected as a possible title for the planned second Hobbit movie.

To the degree that Breakin' 2 is remembered for any reason other than the title, it's as a quickie flop sequel that trotted out the cast of 1984's Breakin' for another, bigger go-round the same year, quite possibly exhausting both the surprising profits and the minimal goodwill earned by the earlier movie.

Curiosity factor: Largely ironic. Recently, I helped put together a couple of viewing parties for a departing friend, under the heading "WTF Musicals"; the idea was to watch a series of generally baffling but entertaining musical features back-to-back, and revel in the cheese. (Also on the program: The Forbidden Zone, The Apple, Happiness Of The Katakuris, Romance And Cigarettes, and more.) Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo was the opener, and was largely on the roster because few of us had ever seen it, in spite of the running-joke title.

The viewing experience: Much to our surprise, Breakin' 2 turned out to be pure, laugh-a-minute cheeseball entertainment. Granted, it's utterly terrible, with stiff, amateurish acting, enough vivid Day-Glo to blind an army of sunglasses-wearing Corey Harts, and the thinnest and hoariest of thin, hoary old plots. But the camp value is through the roof, from the hilariously awful Pat Benatar streetwear to the monumentally clumsy writing to the completely random mime. Why a mime in a movie about breakdancing? Why the hell not?

Okay, so get this: There are a bunch of friendly poor mixed ethnic types in San Francisco who revamp the local community center and make it a place where all the street kids can just hang out and get along together, taking classes in breakdancing and otherwise being cool together. But then an evil rich white guy comes along and wants to tear it down to build a shopping mall. So they have to put on a show to earn money to save their clubhouse.

Pop quiz: Was that the plot of Breakin' 2, or of a random episode of Little Rascals? (Not to mention 1964's Bikini Beach, or the string of Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland musicals before that.) "Hey, kids, let's put on a show to earn the money for our pet project!" has become a cinematic cliché right up there with the snobs-vs.-slobs face-off and the family man who tragically loses his family and turns into a lean, mean killing machine. Breakin' 2 does precisely nothing new with the genre, but that's part of its camp value: The filmmakers know they're doing something corny, dumb, and overplayed, and they just don't care. Like every other "Let's put on a show!" musical, Breakin' 2 isn't remotely about the plotline, it's about the excuse to sing, dance, and, um, don clown makeup and do the moonwalk.

In a nutshell, Breakin' is about rich white girl Kelly (Lucinda Dickey) who lives for dance, but can't quite get that audition-winning edge until she meets a couple of breakdancers: a black kid known as Turbo (Michael "Boogaloo Shrimp" Chambers) and a Puerto Rican man called Ozone (Adolfo "Shabba-Doo" Quinones). As she picks up on their fly moves and gains her own breakdancer nickname, "Special K," Kelly and Ozone fall in extremely chaste, star-crossed love, retelling West Side Story, but with the races reversed, and without anyone dying at the end.

Breakin' 2 reunites the principals in a desultory "let's just get to the dancing" of way. It starts with an all-dance credit sequence in which various extras demonstrate their popping, locking, flaring, and windmilling moves, culminating with a sweaty Ozone (who makes disconcerting eye contact with the camera, further making the credits seem like something out of an '80s sitcom) and a seemingly distracted Turbo pulling a few moves. Then we see what's happened to Kelly. Having mastered all the hot, marketable street moves and aced her dance audition in movie #1, she's gotten exactly the role that most classically trained dancers aspire to their whole lives: Feather-Assed Chorus Girl #15 in some generic stage show:

Deciding that maybe pro dancing isn't as glamorous as it seems, she heads back to her parents' gigantic mansion for some awkward exposition and some grade-school-worthy sulking:

(It's pretty typical of the film's apathy toward anything but the big dance picture that the upper-crust folks, with their Capitol Building marble home and their giant pool, apparently consider Smirnoff a classy drink. But that's beside the point.)

In spite of the lead interracial couple, the Breakin' movies steer clear of actual interracial action—Kelly and Ozone had a love scene in the first film, but it was axed pre-release, and both the films now just feature a brief peck to indicate that the white girl and the brown boy are supposed to be knockin' boots. Similarly, the films steer clear of overt racial conflict. When Kelly's Stepford Wife mom brightly tells her husband, "Well, at least she's not spending time with those street people any more, darling!" it's just as likely that she means "those pathetically non-pool-owning lower-class people" or "those boys who wear Day-Glo leg warmers and headbands in hideously clashing colors" as that she means "the coloreds." Similarly, while the whole film is about a rich honky and a mincing Jewish stereotype picking on a bunch of poor but good-hearted multi-ethnic ghetto kids, no one ever mentions the race thing. It's entertaining to watch the film tiptoe around the obvious, while trying not to be controversial or confrontational.

Back to the story. Kelly pouts around the house until she sees a picture of herself with Turbo and Ozone—prominently displayed, even though her parents hate them—and smiles nostalgically over it. Having suddenly remembered that her boyfriend exists, she heads off to see him. When Ozone gets the heads-up that she's on her way, he and Turbo throw away some bags of garbage, leading Turbo to mock him for cleaning up for a girl: "The mere sound of Kelly's voice on the phone drives the funk from your dingy socks away," he chants. When Kelly arrives in her flashy car, they tell her about their new community center, Miracles, and offer to show her the place, and a spontaneous dance number breaks out, as the whole neighborhood joins together to rap, break, and boogaloo Kelly on down to Miracles:

Yes, in the ghetto, even the mailman, the traffic cops, and the, uh, green-clad explorers in safari hats all respond to a good beat. As the sequence continues interminably, so do a bunch of well-dressed old-lady missionary types and some joggers. This is how most of Breakin' 2's dance numbers go—they're spontaneous within the story, but they're obviously as rigidly, methodically choreographed as the big show-stoppers from an old MGM musical, leaving the breakdancers feeling stiff and regimented most of the time.

Eventually, the dancers fetch up in a city park, where Turbo lays eyes on a hot Mexican chica who looks maybe 14 years old and speaks no English; her baffled Spanish responses to his behavior will be a running joke throughout the film. Finally, though, they all arrive at Miracles, where Ozone turns the tour over to a mime mysteriously named Magician:

No, he does not perform any magic in this movie. In fact, while he's almost always lurking in the background or appearing in reaction shots, he doesn't even do that much miming. He's probably a child molester haunting the community center in a guise that lets him disguise himself with face paint, give everyone a fake name, and never speak. He seems to be sort of symbolic of Miracle's goofy, inclusive attitude, which makes it feel more like a hippie commune than an inner-city community center. The bright colors don't help much either.

After a lengthy, funky musical tour sequence, Kelly meets the film's token non-evil adult, Byron, who's apparently responsible for transforming a dumpy, underfunded community center into a graffiti-covered, eye-hurting monstrosity. More spontaneous breakin' breaks out, while outside, evil developer Mr. Douglas and his henchmen lurk and dream their shopping-mall dreams. The action then heads back to Evil Headquarters for more clumsy exposition, as Douglas shows his callousness toward those wacky dancing kids:

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Back at Miracles, there's yet another dance montage. You have to give Breakin' 2 this: It doesn't pour on the plot and stint on the dance, like some dance movies. Kelly joins the ranks of the center's instructors, and a whole lot of people—from little kids to game thirtysomethings who should really presumably have real jobs by now—freestyle at her command. Cut to a city office with a door prominently marked BUREAU OF ENGINEERING: SURVEY DIVISION, where the developer's weasely, wheedly-voiced, Jerry Lewis-esque Renfield Mr. Randall tells the zoning board about the shopping-mall scheme, glossing over the importance of the community center in a none-too-effective way: "Oh, it's just designed to keep kids off the street." When the zoning commissioner asks where the kids will go when their Miracles is razed, Mr. Randall cues the music by pointing out that they still have "their club, Radiotron." Hey, did someone say Radiotron? Clearly it's time for Stem to perform "Radiotron," and for the kids to dance even more, this time at the club, where Ice-T (in his second film role, following his debut in the first Breakin') comes out in strappy bondage gear to entertain the crowd.

But wait, not everyone in the super-friendly ethnically diverse ghetto is friendly. As Ozone, Turbo, and Kelly hang out in the club, they're challenged by a bunch of well-coordinated Benatar wannabes called Electro Rock. They announce that they rule the dance floor; as Turbo tries to prevent a fight, Kelly announces, in her best unconvincing white-girl voice, "Come on, you guys, let's turn these fooools out!" But when Ozone announces that he will not be wasting his moves on such punks, the face-off breaks up without any dancing whatsoever.

Instead, Ozone and his crew head back to Miracles and learn that it's been declared structurally unsound, and they need $200,000 to fix it, fast. So they launch another montage, where they wash cars, sell lemonade, paint street portraits, and have Magician make balloon animals (but still not do magic). But they only raise a mere $7,000. So Turbo speaks the magic words: "Why don't we just put on a show?"

Shortly thereafter, Kelly's agent informs her, at a ritzy restaurant, that her Feather-Ass dance has somehow earned her an audition in France, "for the lead." No more details are ever offered. She runs off to tell Ozone, for some reason having changed clothes so she looks like a Vegas Strip hooker:

But instead of being happy for her, he's angry that she's abandoning Miracles in its hour of need. A fight might be brewing in Chaste Kiss paradise, but fortunately, a bunch of Electro Rock hoods show up and huck a spray-paint can through one of Miracles' windows. The Miracles crew chase them back to their underpass hideaway, where the lamest dance-off in the history of dance-offs commences, to Ice-T's "Combat." It culminates with the Electro Rock gang whipping out what appear to be dance-chuks, and the Miracles crew defending themselves with trash-can lids:

While both sides dance lamely and no judges are involved, the Electro Rockers fall back in fear and confusion, as Ozone triumphantly announces "TKO!" The confrontation with Mr. Douglas that follows isn't nearly as easy to resolve; he starts surveying the land, assuming victory over those darn kids is assured. When Ozone proclaims that he's going to stop Douglas cold, Douglas purrs "I doubt if an arrogant bunch of street kids have the power to." Now that's some good villainy. It's such effective villainy, in fact, that it causes a cute dancing kid to look up at Byron, wide-eyed, and ask plaintively, "Is that man gonna take away Miracles?"

Much of the rest of the movie proceeds similarly, with the plot clichés only outnumbered by the dialogue clichés, which the amateur cast delivers as stiffly as possible. The kids try to come up with more ways to earn cash. Douglas and his people pressure the zoning commission and move forward with their plan. Yet even more spontaneous dance montages break out. Ozone and Turbo have an uncomfortable dinner with Kelly and her family, hoping to hit up her rich whitebread dad for sponsorship, and not realizing that he's invited that "nerd" lawyer to show up for dinner and make another pitch at wooing Kelly. (By the way, no one ever suggests that maybe Kelly should sell her hot late-model convertible if she really wants to help her hand-to-mouth lower-class buddies.) And so forth and so on. But that only fills out so much time, so Breakin' 2 pads out the action with two irrelevant oddities, one bizarre, and one just boring. In the latter sequence, Turbo dances alone to Mark Scott's "I Don't Want To Come Down," and the filmmakers spin the room so he can dance on the walls and the ceiling, in a bit stolen from Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding:

Unfortunately, in spite of the staging, this is the film's most overblown and overlong sequence; it feels like the filmmakers felt the spinning room was interesting enough, so Turbo's entire dance consists of minor moves, variations on The Robot, and "Aren't you impressed?" grins at the camera. Of far more interest, simply because it's so bloody bizarre: Turbo seeks love advice from Ozone, who shows him how to practice his sketchy pickup moves on a life-sized woman doll Ozone has lying around for some creepy reason. In an scene that combines operatic drama with breakin' variations on the waltz, the two dancers alternate time with the doll, which they each see as their own ladylove, leading to jealousy when the other cuts in. Fortunately, when their competition has the inevitable result on the doll, it frees them up to finally explore their mutual passion, Y Tu Mamá También-style:

Elsewhere, Kelly cinches that job "as the lead" in Paris by donning her best stripper gear and showing off her best pole-dancing moves. This scene is doubly hilarious, both for the contrast between Kelly and all the other dancers—they look like they just walked in from A Chorus Line, she looks like she's arrived from the late stages of Showgirls—and for the frequent cuts to the director and producers auditioning Kelly, who keep whispering among themselves while watching her, presumably trying to find out which of them posted the audition announcement in the local gentleman's club. But Kelly's fashion choices pay off, and she secures that lead role in whatever it is. Will she let vague fame and fortune carry her away, or hang around to help Miracles? After a confrontation with Ozone, her choice seems clear, but then tragedy strikes as Turbo, while taunting Douglas' surveyors and stealing their shit, falls down a flight of stairs and winds up in the hospital. It's all almost briefly worrisome, except that his trip to the ICU turns into a hilariously over-the-top dance number called "When I.C.U."

Dig the ass-wiggling nurses and the wacky surgery comedy. Did "Weird" Al Yankovic see this film before making the video for "Like A Surgeon" the following year?

Just when it seems like the movie couldn't get any worse/better, bulldozers descend on Miracles ahead of schedule, and the kids jump on them to stage yet another impromptu dance party. Douglas spurs them on anyway, but Turbo's new girlfriend sneaks him out of the hospital in time to have him stand in front of the advancing vehicles, throwing things at the drivers, until the cringing, pencil-necked head bulldozer operator announces "We came here to do a job, not to kill kids! We're going home!" Then all the bulldozer drivers apparently take their vehicles back to their houses, while Douglas rants and raves. Turbo's friends triumphantly loft him into the air and ritualistically rip off his bandages, just as the media shows up to get everyone on the kids' side. Kelly tells off her controlling dad and gives up on Paris, as a shirtless Ozone balefully watches.

And then it's time for the big show, where Ice-T sets the scene in surprisingly G-rated style: "Now this is not a party, this is a demonstration / to try to counteract the city council legislation… So reach into your pocket and give us a sign / A quarter, a nickel, or even a dime! Everybody in the place, sing along with me / Everybody in the place, G-I-V-E!"

And they do. Alas, in spite of yet another lengthy dance montage, yet another ridiculous slut costume from Kelly, still more breakin', and the promised vast quantities of eye-hurting Day-Glo, the kids only raise $120,000 by passing the hat. Even the participation of the suddenly friendly members of Electro Rock can't turn the tide. Thank God, Kelly's dad finally sees the error of his ways and shows up to write a check for the extra $50,000 to put Miracles over the top. All that's missing is a shot of Douglas punching a hole through his hat in frustration, Ross-Perot-on-The Simpsons style.

There's so much material I'm not covering here, like the klutzy love triangle between Kelly, Ozone, and an wretched actor who makes them look like Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant by comparison. Or the way Randall backs off the project after one of the kids calls him "wack" and he seemingly hears "whacked," and starts cringing as though someone's planning to off him. Or the big City Council showdown, or the film's heavy emphasis on cute kids attempting to breakdance, or… the list goes on and on. Every minute contains a new reason to howl in surprise and derision.

How much of the experience wasn't a total waste of time? At an absolute minimum, 85 percent. Breakin' 2 is utterly hilarious. Many of the dance sequences are redundant and overlong, but even so, there's always something ill-conceived and hysterical to look at, from fluffy '80s hair to terrible fashions. (Apparently full-on school-band uniforms were really hot in the '80s San Francisco breakdance scene.) The cheesy acting, monumentally trite storyline, and all-around camp level kept our whole musicals-watching party howling in disbelief. It's a lousy movie to watch alone, or with any serious expectations in mind. But in the "so bad it's good" pantheon, it ranks surprisingly high. It's almost—almost—a pity there was never a Breakin' 3: Electric Jubilee.