Saturday, April 30, 2005

Review: Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo (1984)


Kelly is an up-and-coming young dancer in California who is just wrapping up a gig in the chorus line of a musical. Her extremely rich and grotesquely uncool parents want her to give up dancing and go to an ivy league school, but Kelly has other plans. She decides to go down to the 'hood (much to her mom and dad's horror) to meet up with her old friends Ozone and Turbo, whom she met back in the original Breakin' movie.

Ozone and Turbo are breakdancers, and evidently they live in the breakdancing district of L.A. because that's what every single person in the neighborhood is doing. From traffic cops to little old ladies, everybody's popping and locking like there's no tomorrow. Ozone and Turbo have been working in a local community center called Miracles. It's a place where kids can get off the streets and get involved in some healthy physical activity like, oh, say, breakdancing.

Sadly though, there's big trouble in boogaloo city. The old building where Miracles is located has some structural problems and it's going to take $200,000 to fix it up. On top of that, there's an evil building contractor who's just itching to tear the place down and put up a Sam's Club. As everybody already knows, there's only one way to raise $200,000 and save a community center full of breakdancers - put on a show!

Meanwhile, a lot of unrelated things seem to be happening. Kelly gets offered a part in a big musical production that's opening in Paris. A bunch of rival dancers called the Electro Rock gang is trying to take over the neighborhood. Ozone's ex-girlfriend is fuming with jealousy over his relationship with Kelly. Turbo is in love with a girl named Lucia who doesn't speak English. Holy subplot, Batman, what the heck is going on?!

Well, to make a long (and confusing) story short, Kelly takes a pass on Paris to stay and help save Miracles; the Electro Rock gang decide to stop the aggressive behavior and help out as well; Ozone's ex throws a few hissy fits in Kelly's direction but Kelly stands up for herself; and Turbo gets advice from Ozone and Kelly which allows him to dance his way into Lucia's heart despite the language barrier.

With all those loose ends neatly tied up, the Miracles dance-a-thon goes on as scheduled. Kelly's parents happen to see a news report about it on their inexplicably small t.v. and realize that maybe their daughter isn't completely throwing her life away after all. They hurry down to Miracles and write a fat check that puts the fundraiser over the top. There is joyous rioting in the streets and the breakdancing continues into the night (or at least into the credits).


Ah, breakdancing - the craze that swept the U.S.A. back in the 80's, causing millions to put squares of cardboard down on the sidewalk and try to copy the funky moves featured in films like Electric Boogaloo. Primarily this resulted in slipped discs, cracked pelvises and broken necks, which may explain why the breakdancing movement didn't enjoy the longevity it deserved. As one who remembers well those heady days I can attest to the fact that a headspin is not as easy as it looks.

Seeing as how trying to actually breakdance may well prove fatal, it seems much safer to sit on the couch with a bag of Cheetos and watch a movie about it. This helps to explain the preponderance of breakdancing movies during the early- to mid-1980's. Electric Boogaloo definitely has dancing - you've got to give it that. As a matter of fact, the plot often feels like it's getting in the way of the dancing segments. That being the case I'm not sure why the screenwriters decided to include enough subplots for three of four movies. Just about every musical and dance-related film is pilfered here, from West Side Story to Flashdance. The cliches are trotted out at high speed and without a hint of embarrassment.

When you're casting a dance movie I'm sure one of the most difficult questions you face is whether to hire actors who can dance a little or dancers who can act a little. Electric Boogaloo employes both types - I'd say Ozone and Kelly fall in the former category while Turbo is more in the latter. Not to say that Ozone and Kelly are bad dancers - they do a pretty good job - but some of the extras display much more impressive moves. Turbo's acting is pretty rough, but he's got talent in the dance department. I do wish the characters of Ozone and Turbo had been given nicknames as cool as the ones used by the actors who portray them - Ozone is played by Adolfo "Shabba-Doo" Quinones; Turbo by Michael "Boogaloo Shrimp" Chambers. Even the dullest script could become entertaining if the characters had names like Boogaloo Shrimp.

I love the cardboard-cutout villains in this movie. Mr. Douglas (the building contractor who wants to pave over Miracles) is such a stereotypical bad-guy that you can intuit everything there is to know about him the first instant he appears onscreen. He's going to be greedy, cold-hearted, mildly racist, and obsessed with his public image - pretty much the standard model villain for this type of film. The 80's were an especially bad time to be a rich old white guy - you were automatically pegged as evil by anyone under 30. Of course, now that we have terrorists to worry about everybody's stopped watching the rich old white guys, which is kind of scary if you think about it.

It's hard to say exactly when the nadir of 1980's fashion occurred, but based on this film you could make a pretty strong argument for 1984. Some of my favorite fashion statements from Electric Boogaloo include the following: a leather Civil-War style hat with furry tails attached; a belt made out of handcuffs; a fedora with the top torn out and poofy 80's hair sticking through; rhinestone-encrusted fingerless gloves; huge mirrored wraparound sunglasses; pants baggy enough to store watermelons in; and of course, the ultimate accessory: a ghetto-blaster the size of a Honda Civic. By the way, I don't care how macho you are - any man who wears a pastel, cut-off, belly-exposing t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up is going to look unbelievably gay.

Final Analysis

Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo made me want to throw on some parachute pants and backspin the night away. Sure it stretches the thinnest of plots over an unstable framework of dance routines and features some unbearably hammy performances by the lead actors, but at least watching this film is less likely to result in serious injury than doing the worm. Not recommended for rich old white guys.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Review: Alien Warrior (1985)


On a distant, pastel-colored planet an alien who vaguely resembles Bob Vila asks permission from his father to go forth into the Universe to fight "Great Evil." His dad sends him to Earth, where evil is pretty easy to find. He climbs into a mystical garbage compactor which sends him shooting through space buck naked. He makes his landing in an unspecified hellhole of a city in America and is - thankfully - given some pants and a blazer by a smelly drunk guy. With no time to waste he starts walking the streets asking people where he can find some evil. He adopts the name "Buddy."

Nearby, a clean-cut woman named Laura is walking alone through the most dangerous part of town in the middle of the night with no clear destination. She is spotted by some hoodlums who chase her down an alley. Her doom seems imminent, but Buddy senses the danger and rescues her. In battling the hoods he realizes that when he hurts someone, he experiences their pain. Laura is impressed with Buddy's anti-evil stance and gives him a job in the urban tutoring center she operates.

Meanwhile, the local pimp / drug dealer / all-around scum "Mr. 1" is busy tending his various illegal operations. He somehow manages to get just about every prominent local official to sleep with a hooker so he can take incriminating photos of them. Buddy begins to reform the petty criminals and gang members in the neighborhood, teaching them how to build futuristic cars out of scrap metal and to paint over their graffiti with more positive graffiti. "Mr. 1" notices his profits dropping off due to the lack of crime and sends a couple of corrupt cops to kill Buddy. Buddy gets the upper hand and takes the bad cops to the police station. Unfortunately, "Mr. 1" has the police chief in his sway and Buddy is the one who gets put in jail.

Buddy's semi-reformed gang member friends steal a suitcase of money from "Mr. 1" so they can bail Buddy out of the slammer. "Mr. 1," who is starting to lose patience with the whole affair, kidnaps Laura and stages a trap for Buddy. Buddy does his best to save Laura but upon shooting one of "Mr. 1's" henchmen he becomes semi-transparent and thus unable to do much of anything. Luckily the gang members show up and shoot "Mr. 1", who falls into an iron smelter. Buddy's spirit returns to his home planet and his father congratulates him on a job well done.


If I were sent to Earth to fight "Great Evil" I wouldn't waste time with pimps and gang members and such; I would go after the makers of this film. While drug dealers and prostitutes sit in jail the producers of Alien Warrior are walking around free, and it's just not right. These people have more evil in one finger than the average street hood does in their entire body. Honestly, this is the kind of film that makes you think maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing if the entire human race were to be wiped out by a plague or a nuclear explosion.

How does one even go about discussing a movie as bad as Alien Warrior? The screenplay seems to have been a collaboration between an eleven-year-old and a schizophrenic. It flings us violently from scenes of good-natured fantasy into ones of murder and torture, then back again. I can't figure out who this film's target audience was supposed to be. Anyone who enjoyed the fantasy parts would be emotionally scarred by the horribly violent parts, and anyone who enjoyed the horribly violent parts shouldn't be allowed out in public anyway.

Don't get me wrong - violence in film has a long and proud tradition, and I don't object to it as a rule. It's just that Alien Warrior has such a disturbing attitude about it. When "Mr. 1" is setting up the trap for Buddy he has one of his henchmen kidnap a woman, strip her clothes off, and threaten her with a snake and a power drill. Is this really necessary? Couldn't they have gotten the point across without the power drill? This movie just doesn't know when to say when.

I will admit that "Mr. 1" is a pretty despicable villain. He's a vile, murderous thug who has no sense of morality whatsoever. You would think that the filmmakers would like to keep his aura of menace intact, but after Buddy's friends steal the suitcase of money we see "Mr. 1" running through the streets in a pair of white briefs, chasing after them. The actor who portrays "Mr. 1" does not appear to realize how ridiculous he looks - the scene is not played for laughs, which is what makes it so funny. The worst thing you can do to a screen villain is to show him in his underpants. This is why you never saw Darth Vader in his BVDs.

"Mr. 1" and Buddy seem completely mismatched as a villain/hero pair. Buddy should be doing battle with Skeletor, not going up against a homicidal pimp. And I don't understand why Buddy's dad is so pleased with him when he returns to Planet Crunchberry. What did he really accomplish? The gangsters he "reformed" didn't actually stop killing people, they just started killing other criminals. He didn't even take out "Mr. 1" himself - his gang-member friend did it while Buddy was standing around being transparent.

There were some things about this movie that I really liked. There's Buddy's futuristic trash car. There's a kid who dresses like Michael Jackson. There's an excellent scene of some breakdancing. There's the longest cow bell solo in the history of film scores. Given the choice, however, I'd rather be kidnapped, stripped naked and threatened with snakes and power drills than watch this pile of garbage again.

Final Analysis

Alien Warrior is a dismally inept film, and on that level it's quite enjoyable to watch. Unfortunately, it's also a misogynistic, virulently racist exercise in depravity. It's the sort of film that takes a little bit of your soul away. Years from now the memory of Alien Warrior will fade in my mind, but I'll never get that chunk of my soul back. It is implied in the opening scene of the film that Buddy may actually be Jesus' brother. If the producers of this movie go to heaven when they die they should watch their backs, because Jesus may be waiting for them up there, in a dark alley, with a lead pipe.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Review: Firebird 2015 A.D. (1981)


The year is 2015. Because of a worldwide oil shortage the President has made it illegal for private citizens to operate gas-powered vehicles. This rather unpopular law is enforced by the agents of the DVC (Department of Vehicle Control) who make their patrols with dirt bikes and M-16s. The DVC officers are searching for "burners" - rebel citizens who refuse to give in to the anti-car laws. One such burner is Red (Darren McGaven), a grizzled old malcontent who drives the titular Firebird - a car the DVC are desperate to catch.

Red's estranged son Cam has come out to the desert where his dad is holed up with his stash of old air filters and bottles of Gum-Out. The two have a flat, emotion-free reunion and Red explains the joys of illegal driving to Cam. They meet up with fellow burner Indy and his gearhead daughter Jill. Jill initiates Cam into the world of driving, and later, the world of sex. The DVC goons discover the post-coital couple, beat up Cam and take Jill prisoner, hoping she will divulge the location of the Firebird.

Cam, Red, and Indy mount a rescue operation and confuse the heck out of the five DVC troopers guarding Jill, who either get run over or accidentally shoot each other. Cam and Jill drive the Firebird into the sunset on a mission to transport a Senator to Washington so that he may fight for the rights of those with huge, gas-guzzling hotrods.


This film has a real old-school Republican feel to it. Private citizens taking back their rights from a government out of control. These are real heroes, fighting for their freedom. Admittedly, the only thing they want to do with their freedom is to take their muscle cars into the desert and leak oil and transmission fluid all over the wildlife, but hey - freedom is freedom.

Based on the quality of the DVC recruits, though, you don't get the impression that the burners are much of a national crisis. These appear to be the people who were rejected from every other branch of law enforcement. The only member of the squad who isn't either mentally unstable or completely incompetent turns out to be a burner sympathizer. The prime nut case of the group is a guy named Dolan (Alex Diakun). A supposed Native American, he fancies putting on a loincloth and shooting at burners with a rocket launcher. There is a very trippy scene in which Dolan sits on a high cliff, rolls his eyes into the back of his head and screams for about five minutes. (Is this what white people think Native Americans do?)

All of the DVC troopers appear to have serious cases of "bad-guy aim." Maybe an M-16 is harder to aim than it looks, but Red and his burner buddies drive so close that the DVC guys could just take the bullets out of the guns and throw them at the cars. Evidently Red and co. know about their enemies' poor marksmanship because whenever they come under fire they don't try to drive away; they just spin doughnuts until the DVC guys give up.

I found this to be one of those movies that feels like it's building up to something exciting, but then that exciting thing never happens. The dangerous mission to get the Senator to Washington is mentioned but the film ends before it takes place. The small amount of actual plot is padded with scene after scene of filler. Even worse, the filler is frequently set to migraine-inducing country rock songs written specifically for this film, including "Dee Vee Cee" and "Drivin' for Our Freedom." I can only watch so many musical montages of old guys racing their hulking '70's cars around the desert before I start to reach for the suicide blade.

The one thing that did get my attention was the character of Jill (played by Mary Beth Rubens.) Not only was she was handy with cars, but every other line she spoke was some kind of double entendre. And she had a LOT of lines. She goes after the golden retriever-like Cam with the determination of someone who doesn't run into many guys who don't have prostate trouble. I felt like I needed a shower after watching her demonstrate the use of the stick-shifter.

Final Analysis

Despite the guilty pleasure of Jill's driving instruction, Firebird 2015 A.D. really hurts. Like the desert in which it was filmed, this movie seems to stretch on forever. It was made in 1981 but it still had the sleazy coating of the 70's clinging to it, and whoever thought the heroes should be unappealing senior citizens needs to be punched in the kidneys. Not recommended for the crap-movie novice; proceed with caution.