Breakin’ was surely a sign of its times.  Released in 1984 the film was quickly put together and thrown out into theaters by Cannon Films to try and make money off the breakdancing craze.  While not a hip hop movie per se (though Ice-T does make his debut appearance in the film) it does capture another huge part of the hip hop culture from the 1980s.  Breakdancing was HUGE.  It was everywhere.  Man I remember our gym teacher having us breakdance in gym class.  IN GYM CLASS.  Can you imagine an uncoordinated 8 year old white kid trying to pop and lock?  It was pretty horrible.  Actually I wish they would have videotaped that shit.  I would kill to put that on YouTube.

I loved breakdancing just like I loved rap.  Now I couldn’t breakdance but I just loved the ways the dancers moved and danced.  I remember I made my Dad bring me to the local swamp meet where a local breakdancing competition was being held.  So my Dad actually took me…and a huge fight broke out.  Kids were fighting EVERYWHERE.  I remember my Dad scooping me right up and we got the hell out.  I never got to see the kids breakdance.

So when a movie called Breakin came out of course I asked to go see the movie.  My Dad actually took me – one of the rare times he would actually take me to a movie (he wasn’t big on going to the theater and seeing whatever crap I wanted to see that particular week).  So here’s what got me looking forward to the movie…

The trailer actually really isn’t good.  I couldn’t have been sold just based on the trailer alone.  So it must have been the amazing TV commercials that had me so looking forward to see the movie.

The movie is about a girl named Kelly (Lucinda Dickey) who works a dead end job at a restaurant while trying to make it as a dancer.  One of her friends from dance class Adam (Phineas Newborn III) brings her down near the beach where a bunch of street dancers hang out and dance.  They come up on two street dancers that Adam knows: Turbo (Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers) and Ozone (Adolfo “Shabba Doo” Quinones).  Turbo and Ozone hang out together, live together, and basically just do breakdancing whenever they aren’t working.

Kelly is pretty drawn to the duo right from the start but she is still very iffy of the new guys.  Her dancing is more classic and way different then this street dancing that they do.  Kelly’s instructor Franco (Ben Lokey) really abhors the breakdancers and wants absolutely nothing to do with them.  There’s a scene where Turbo and Ozone come to find Kelly at the dance studio.  Breakdancing breaks out and it is all fun until Franco shows up and ruins the party.  We really see the animosity in his eyes.  He kicks out Turbo and Ozone and basically disses the shit out of them.  Franco has a thing for Kelly and makes his move on her when he is alone with her.  Kelly is shocked and basically runs out of the studio.  All of the hard work she’s done for nothing as now she has no one to train with.  So where does she go?
To hang out with Turbo and Ozone, of course!

Now Turbo is a very young kid.  He’s headstrong but he is one hell of a breakdancer.  Just watching him on-screen for ten seconds and you are basically FLOORED by what the kid can do.  But he just doesn’t run around the streets on his own.  He has Ozone.  Ozone is definitely an older guy than Turbo so I’m not sure why this young kid is hanging out with this guy who is at least….nine years older?  Like I said…these guys work together.  They live together.  They dance together.  They do everything together.  If Ozone didn’t have the hots for Kelly I would think that Turbo and Ozone were more than just good friends.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Kelly decides to forego regular dancing and starts learning to breakdance from Turbo and Ozone.  At first there’s not really a point – they are doing it just for fun.  They show up at the club and show off their moves against rival breakdance gangs.  For these guys breakdancing is their life and to win is everything.  To lose…well…it’s a blow to all of your street cred.  Whatever street cred a breakdancer can actually have.

The thing is Kelly really believes in Turbo and Ozone.  She really thinks that the two are special and breakdancing is really special.  She really wants to see the art form go out into the mainstream and be accepted by the masses.  So the three try to do just that by putting together a performance for a showcase that will show off both Kelly’s dancing abilities and the trio’s breakdancing moves.

One of the very cool things about this film is it was one of the very first appearances of rapper Ice-T.  Ice-T is a MC at the club Radio-Tron that everyone goes to dance at.  He actually gets to rap onscreen but it is definitely an early 80s style of rap – something he would quickly lose in his subsequent albums.  It is cool to see Ice-T on screen for the first time especially as he really broke out as an actor after he found success in hip hop.  Nothing, NOTHING, beats his appearance as Scotty Appleton in New Jack City but there probably wouldn’t be an Ice-T in New Jack City without an Ice-T in Breakin.

Now there are two actors who went on to do such huge things in the movie world.  The first is Christopher McDonald.  In Breakin he plays James, Kelly’s agent.  He keeps trying to get her jobs even as she continues to try and be a breakdancer.  McDonald would go to act in a slew of Hollywood movies including Chances Are, Thelma and Louise, Grumpy Old Men, Quiz Show, Requiem for a Dream, and, perhaps his best known role, Happy Gilmore where he played Happy’s rival, golfer Shooter McGavin.  It is truly the performance of a lifetime for McDonald….but can one ever forget his amazing role in Breakin?  I highly doubt it.

I remember working at Blockbuster many moons ago and we were talking about Jean Claude Van-Damme’s first movie.  I said Van Damme’s first movie was No Retreat, No Surrender.  The guy I was talking to said it was Breakin.  I looked at him like he was fucking nuts.  I’d seen Breakin a thousand times.  I OWNED Breakin.  I had never EVER seen Jean Claude Van-Damme in Breakin!  There’s no way.  I did something I only did when I know I was right…I made a bet.  The next day I brought Breakin in (for some odd reason they actually didn’t have the movie at the Blockbuster for rent), threw the movie into the VCR, and fast forwarded until the guy told me to stop.  It was right at the first breakdance scene in the beginning when Kelly and Adam come up to see Turbo and Ozone at the beach.  All the people are standing around the street dancers, clapping and grooving along to them doing their thing.  Sure enough, amongst the crowd, is Jean Claude Van-Damme doing that VERY CORNY DANCE that he became known for.  I was shocked.  SHOCKED.  Now Jean Claude had no lines.  He didn’t do much.  He just stood there dancing.  But still.  Jean Claude Van-Damme in a breakdance movie!  I’m pretty sure it was his role in this movie that landed him Bloodsport.

NOW – Wiki lists that Michel Qissi is also in the film as a background dancer.  I had read that previously so this time around I looked for him while I watched the movie.  I could not spot him.  I was sure he was somewhere dancing near Van Damme but if he was, I couldn’t see him.  Qissi’s name might not sound familiar but if you’ve ever seen Van Damme’s Kickboxer then you know Qissi as the ultimate bad guy Tong Po.  Qissi also had a role in Bloodsport as one of the fighters in the Kumite but he was truly not one of the memorable fighters.

The Breakin soundtrack was one of the most classic soundtrack from the 80s.  One of the most memorable parts of the soundtrack are two songs: Breakin…There’s No Stopping Us and Showdown both by Ollie and Jerry.  Ollie and Jerry never released a full length album which is a damn shame because their songs on this soundtrack (and Breakin 2) were outstanding.  Breakin’…There’s No Stopping Us actually made it to #9 on the Top 100 Billboard songs.  Not so bad for a bunch of guys who were never heard from again.

Chaka Khan put out Ain’t Nobody which is by far the best, most well known song on the soundtrack, and one of her best known songs.  The song actually went to #1 for one very short week but that short week was way well deserved.

The music and the film’s premise together were just great.  Now the film itself is not some blockbuster piece of work worthy of a bunch of different Oscars.  It isn’t really a time capsule THOUGH there were many people back in the eighties who would just hang out on the street corner with some cardboard and breakdance.  It’s truly a weird thing to think about.  People would go to the corner, with some cardboard, and dance.  That was actually a thing.  And it is captured here in this movie what actual dancers used to go out and do.  It truly was a fun, weird time.

Now the film was actually a huge success for Cannon Films which was known to throw dumb plots together with a tiny budget and try to produce a good film.  Usually that was a recipe for disaster.  For Breakin’ it worked.  Why?  I’m pretty sure most of that was just timing.  They rushed the movie into production and rushed the movie out to theaters.  Because of that the film was out at a time where the breakdancing craze was actually still huge.  This wouldn’t be the case for the sequel…even though Breakin 2 came out just SIX MONTHS AFTER THIS MOVIE.  A sequel came out not only the same year…but just six months later.  By movie standards that is literally insane.  And both movies weren’t filmed at the same time.  Like The Matrix sequels came out with six months between films but they were both filmed at the same time.  For Breakin they filmed Breakin then decided to turn right around and release a sequel.  The sequel would become famous for its very memorable name…but I’ll talk about Breakin 2 in a later review.

There would be a rush to beat the film Beat Street into theaters.  Breakin beat Beat Street into theaters by FOUR DAYS.  Talk about cutting it close.  Beat Street only grossed about 16 million dollars – a decent amount for a hip hop film.  But Breakin really brought in the big haul with 38 million dollars made on a 1.2 million dollar budget.  That is huge – especially for some crappy Cannon movie.  The sequel that came out just six months later?  It did nowhere near that business.

Funny enough there is another sequel to Breakin 2.  It isn’t Breakin 3 but a film called Rappin that starred Mario Van Peebles.  Even though it had nothing to do with the Breakin movies it was called Breakdance 3 in some markets (Breakin was known as Breakdance in some foreign markets).  The film was not well received and is all but forgotten about in the world of hip hop movies.  I think I will have to review it for this column though because…why not???

Now there was also talk of producing an actual Breakin 3 sometime after the movie You Got Served came out.  That film got pretty hot and breakdancing was really brought back to the forefront for a brief moment.  For a long time the project was listed on IMDB as ‘in development’ and I was really, really, REALLY looking forward to old Turbo and old Ozone coming out of retirement to teach a bunch of young kids how to street dance.  That would have been amazing.  But I guess everything fell through and the movie was never made.  Which is a shame.  I think Turbo and Ozone years later in a mentor role would have been fantastic.

In terms of movies coming out in the eighties with a hip hop theme Breakin was a huge, massive success.  It was more successful than Krush Groove, Disorderlies, Beat Street, Wild Style, Tougher Than Leather…basically anything that came out in theaters.  Again – not so bad for a movie starring a bunch of nobodies who are just breakdancing.  I mean Krush Groove had Run-DMC and The Fat Boys…and Breakin CRUSHED that movie.  There’s a good reason for that.  While the film isn’t known for its amazing acting the actors themselves are very charismatic and the film is really a lot of fun.  The theme of be who you are and do what you love is very prevalent throughout the film and, of course, it works out for our main trio in the very end.  Of course Breakin 2 comes along and messes up the entire ending to Breakin 1 but that’s a whole other story.