“In the second film the wardrobe people wanted to go glamorous. And they wanted to make Los Angeles look beautiful – that’s why all the colors are bright and friendly. Los Angeles is not like that – they made BREAKIN’ 2 as some kind of a WIZARD OF OZ of dance. And you know what? For a kid that never had anything, not even the money in the family to go to Disneyland – suddenly people were screaming, and cheering, dancing and being happy on the screen. That’s the fantasy. Maybe Los Angeles will never be that way, but Los Angeles was beautiful for one day when people watched BREAKIN’ 2. I think that’s nice.” -Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers to Marco Siedelmann in the book Stories From the Trenches: Adventures in Making High Octane Hollywood Movies With Cannon Veteran Sam Firstenberg
BREAKIN’ was a huge hit for Cannon. It opened at #1 even though it was going head-to-head with Universal’s SIXTEEN CANDLES, and on almost 200 fewer screens. It ended up making $38 million, which was more than twice BEAT STREET’s total, and put it at #17 in the 1984 box office rankings, above such films as BACHELOR PARTY, RED DAWN, THE TERMINATOR and Cannon’s own MISSING IN ACTION. And if you scan down that list, way down to #102, you’ll find BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO.
That sounds more disastrous than it is, because only its first ten days of release were in 1984; its eventual total would’ve put it around #59. More notable than the sequel’s lower box office take is the fact that they got it into theaters less than 8 months later. But it wasn’t just a continuation – they put together a new team of filmmakers, headed by director Sam Firstenberg, who had just directed Dickey in NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (also released in ’84!), and they gave it a goofier, less reality-bound tone and style with more neon and rainbow colors in the clothes and graffiti.
Way more time seems to have passed since the events of BREAKIN’ in the movie than in reality. Turbo, Special K and Ozone’s stage show Street Jazz (“The Dance Event of the ‘80s,” according to a poster on Special K’s wall) has long since concluded (but maybe it was only performed once, also according to the poster?) and Special K hasn’t seen the other two for some time – long enough that she holds a framed photo and reminisces about old times. (I wish they tried to age her with a grey streak in her hair like Nancy in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3.) She has a different manager (Herb Mitchell, SCORPION) who gets her an offer to star in a show in Paris, but her mom (Jo de Winter, DIRTY HARRY) and dad (John Christy Ewing, “District Attorney Owens” on two episodes of the Walking Tall tv series), who are super rich and live in a historic mansion*, try to convince her to go to Princeton instead. It’s interesting that it was never mentioned or implied in the first movie that she comes from wealth. Good for her still busting her ass at that waitressing job.
When she goes to visit Ozone and Turbo (and kisses Ozone on the lips!) she finds out that they fixed up and colorfully painted an old building in East L.A. that they’re running as a community center called Miracles. It’s kind of a utopian vision, like the Freedom School in BILLY JACK, where they teach breakdancing, art and boxing to what looks like hundreds of kids and adults. From what I can tell they operate as a non-hierarchical collective, and everyone gets along and there’s a clown/mime/balloon artist guy (Don Lewis, WARRIORS OF VIRTUE, the “Hush” episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) who hangs out with them and nobody seems bothered by that.
I know BREAKIN’ isn’t noted for gritty realism, but the sequel doesn’t try to fool anyone. Turbo’s boombox now has a promo sticker for the first BREAKIN’ movie on it, in case you’re wondering if this takes place in real-world reality.
Instead it follows musical reality. When the reunited TKO crew lead some of the kids from Miracles in dancing down the street, random mailmen, traffic cops and other bystanders start doing flips and handsprings and popping and locking along with them. Everyone in the whole area comes outside and joins in. It’s one of many scenes in this sequel that seem like it might possibly involve more dancers than were in the entirety of the first movie.
(Everything is bigger – even Turbo and Ozone’s garage. Maybe they had it remodeled with their Street Jazz money.)
That might be the biggest dance number, but it’s far from the goofiest. It’s quickly followed by the scene where their rivals Electro-Rock throw a spraypaint can through their window like a brick, and lure them to the freeway underpass, where they play an unreleased Ice-T song called “Combat” on a boombox while the two crews simulate fighting with dance moves around and on top of some abandoned cars. They punch at each other, spin nunchakas and use garbage can lids as shields, and from the looks on their faces they consider this mortal danger, though they all choose not to make contact.
In the world of movies there’s plenty of overlap between dancers and warriors. Like the heroes of the martial arts movies I love, these dancers are naturally talented people with disciplined training in their styles. They live somewhat outside of society and adhere to a code. They are challenged by other clans, they have moves that they keep secret, they combine forces to develop new, more powerful styles. So it weirdly makes sense that they would have some movies that aren’t just about dance feuds or competitions, but using their skills to protect their community from outside threats.
So the main conflict here is not dance-related, but a snooty white developer (Peter MacLean, SQUIRM, THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE) who wants to build a shopping center or supermarket (he describes it both ways) where Miracles is. He got the zoning committee to condemn the building unless they can raise $200,000 to repair it. There’s a funny public hearing scene that seems modeled after BILLY JACK, with the Miracles kids yelling out various insults from the crowd, and it cracks me up that when a little kid mutters, “You guys are wacked, man,” the developer’s lackey Randall [Ken Olfson, ANGEL] repeats it in disbelief, sounding absolutely wounded. “‘Wacked’? Wh- wha–?”
There are a few different subplots, a couple of them love-related. Rhonda (Susie Coelho, THEODORE REX, at the time married to Sonny Bono) likes Ozone and is jealous of Special K and keeps yelling about it and trying to make Special K feel unwelcome. Turbo gets a crush on a dancer he sees named Lucia (Sabrina Garcia, “Additional Finale Dancers,” BODY ROCK) but has no experience with girls and has to ask Ozone for advice. This leads to a weird scene where they practice dancing with a dummy they happen to have (dressed as Special K, it seems like?) and the dummy keeps becoming Special K or Lucia – it reminds me of the scene in MO’ BETTER BLUES where he can’t remember which girlfriend he’s with – and then the boys get jealous of each other for imaginary-dancing with their respective crushes.
Also when Special K brings the boys over for dinner her parents ambush them by inviting Derek (Nicholas Segal, CHOPPING MALL), a dipshit Hollywood lawyer asshole with a bow tie and fake aristocratic accent who they claim is her fiancee (but she disagrees). This is a guy who literally calls them “riff raff,” to give you an idea. Special K is hoping her dad will spend what to him is a miniscule amount of money to repair Miracles, but he sucks so he tells Ozone and Turbo that he can’t give them money because “You people mismanage it. You spend it on drugs and fancy clothes and cars.” (Another one of those things that conservative pundits can now say openly that used to be only said by one-dimensional villains in movies like this.)
The only one of these stories that goes anywhere is the Turbo one, and that’s because it leads to an iconic dance sequence: alone in the garage he dances up the walls and on the ceiling, and she comes to see him and they’re in love now. (Important historical note: mechanical effects designer Jim Doyle used the same rotating room he’d built for Tina’s death and Glen’s blood geyser in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. He also used it to make the stuff move around in THE STUFF.)
Ozone is usually a moody, stubborn character, so I like the part where he’s wise enough to try to call a truce with Electro Rock, telling them “we need your juice” and arguing that the closing of Miracles would be the beginning of gentrification that would ruin things for Electro Rock and the whole neighborhood. Not only does Strobe (Steve “Sugarfoot” Notario) turn him down, but he brings his crew to watch and laugh when bulldozers arrive to destroy the center! (He makes peace at the end by, without discussion, joining them on stage as part of “The Miracles Dancers.”)
Unfortunately Ozone, Rhonda and sometimes Special K are saddled with dialogue where they act unreasonable and seem like pains in the ass. It’s definitely a broader and cornier movie than the first one, but I always liked it better because it understood that
1) reality is for assholes, cool dance number gimmicks are for champions
2) the plot’s job is to lead us to those cool dance numbers and then get the fuck out of the way
So, for example, Turbo tries to slow down the destruction of the center by stealing a lunch from one of the workers, which leads to a foot chase where he (well, an adult stuntman) falls down some stairs. Ozone tells Special K that Turbo is in the hospital, so she chooses to miss her flight to Paris (possibly losing her starring role) to visit him. About ten seconds after she arrives, Lucia steps out of a cabinet in the hospital room (?), and kisses Turbo, which causes him to regain consciousness and then everyone immediately decides that he’s healed so they all do a big dance number through the hospital, involving other patients (who seem to be magically cured of all ailments) and a line of sexy nurses in high heels. Some surgeons interrupt an operation to dance, and one of them is the shaky guy from the “Beat It” video. Later Turbo shows up at Miracles in his hospital gown and his friends just remove his leg cast and he can dance again.
It doesn’t matter how they got there. They wanted to do a hospital dance sequence, so Turbo fell down some stairs. Then they wanted him to dance some more, so he’s healed. No problem. You can do that in BREAKIN’ 2. It’s also notable that the movie doesn’t tell us if that job was still waiting for Special K in Paris or not. She made her choice – her friends and their cause were more important.
Admittedly, putting on a show to save the community center is one of the hoariest cliches there is. You can see variations of it in everything from the 1937 Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movie BABES IN ARMS to THE BLUES BROTHERS to TOUGHEST MAN IN THE WORLD starring Mr. T. It’s always been the cheesiest thing about BREAKIN’ 2, but the older I get the more it also seems like the truest thing about it. If anything, the heartless developers caricatured in these sorts of stories have gotten bolder and crueler in the decades since. I don’t know if it was the case then, but it certainly wouldn’t work now to “go to the press” as boxing coach Byron (Harry Caesar, EMPEROR OF THE NORTH) does. And I’m not totally sure the bulldozer drivers would refuse their orders to demolish the stage just because people are standing on it. Maybe. Hopefully. But, I mean – they’ll do homeless camps.
I’ve lived in the same neighborhood for around 20 years and watched as many of the places that once made it special were plucked out and replaced by soul-less chains. There was a huge, beautiful independent record store I could see from my kitchen window that had a stage in the back and all kinds of signings and performances with major acts and became the site for makeshift memorials when beloved musicians died – it was a genuine community gathering place. Like Ozone said about Miracles, it was “more than a piece of property. It’s people.” Despite changes in the industry they were still very successful when the parking lot company that owned the property doubled their rent to force them out and give the space to Chase Bank, who already have a location right up the street. On the same block, CVS replaced what was once a locally owned burger place just to fuck with the nearby locally owned drug store, and it worked – the 130 year old Bartell chain was recently sold to Rite Aid.
It makes me so mad to think of some person I’ll never meet who lives far away and thinks of it as a smart investment to get rid of places that are meaningful to the lives of those of us who do live here. The unique one-offs and local institutions that give a neighborhood its personality become bullseyes for these ghouls – soft targets to fuck over and rebuild for corporations that can pay higher rent, but not necessarily higher wages, and may not feel the same responsibility to the community. Now factor in the more heinous and unjust issues of gentrifying primarily Black and Latinx neighborhoods – taking away not only places that are important to the locals, but their ability to afford rent – and you have both the cartoon villain of this movie and the real life business people who thrive in every city in America.
So now it feels to me less like a cliche and more like a hard truth that if hundreds of creative and passionate artists broke their backs to create a beautiful rainbow-colored temple to positivity and creative expression then some rich motherfucker would definitely try to turn it into a shopping center to “not only upgrade the area but make it commercially viable,” as Randall says, and the locals would be forced to sell fuckin lemonade and have a car wash to try to save it. It makes me think of every indie theater or video store that has managed to scrape by with fundraisers or miraculous last minute rescues by cool rich people. Or, in darker moments, it brings to mind every human being forced to make a Gofundme to try to pay for their friend or loved one’s surgery or cancer treatment because our healthcare system isn’t designed to help most of us.
I’m sorry to report that BREAKIN’ 2 does not present any operable solutions to these issues. But it does offer an inspiring, aspirational ideal to aim for, an optimistic portrait of what was then the potential of hip hop, which has in some ways come to pass: a multi-cultural union coming together through music and dancing, expressing themselves by looking cool, having fun. (In this one it also crosses class lines, as Kelly explicitly acknowledges both her “very rich people” parents and her TKO crew as “my family.”)
The community center brings them together and amplifies their creativity, and by coming together and amplifying their creativity they can save the community center. I don’t know if I believe it in real life, but I go with it in the movie. I choose to “believe in the beat,” as the song says.
In many circles, I think BREAKIN’ 2 is better known as a hacky joke than a specific movie. The audacious goofiness of the rhyming subtitle has, for what seems like over 150 years, been the joke subtitle to every fictional sequel anybody ever joked about (I have long felt we should move on to FAREWELL TO THE FLESH). In a dark twist that perfectly sums up the fucking internet, this cliche led to far right groups appropriating the title as code for a violent uprising or race war they want to start. In 2020 testimony to the Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism – Committee on Homeland Security, extremism expert J.J. MacNab wrote that
“the denizens of the weapons forums on the 4Chan /k/ board and on reddit renamed it ‘Civil War 2: Electric Boogaloo.’ A few years ago, there was an ongoing joke on social media to cast any mediocre sequel as an ‘electric boogaloo.’”
“Civil War 2: Electric Boogaloo” was soon shortened to “the Boogaloo” (and sometimes The Big Luau, which is why they’re also trying to ruin Hawaiian shirts). The people who say they want to start it became known as Boogaloos, Boogaloo Bois or Boogs. Because “mediocre sequels” are funny.
It’s fitting that BREAKIN’ 2 would be the target of their derision, since it’s the opposite of everything they stand for – not only glorifying racial unity, but the dominance of urban Black and Latinx culture – and maybe, with its PG-rated accessibility, even contributed to the less racially monolithic American culture they’re so afraid of. In the phone-book-sized tome Stories From the Trenches: Adventures in Making High Octane Hollywood Movies With Cannon Veteran Sam Firstenberg by Marco Siedelmann, interviews with Firstenberg, Dickey, Chambers and Quinones all speak of Quinones resenting Dickey (or at least the idea of having to co-star with a white woman) and the direction the sequel took. Quinones could easily have used ELECTRIC BOOGALOO’s punchline status as confirmation that he was right; instead, he seems to have changed his opinion entirely. As he told Siedelmann:
“I had some resentment for… the fact that she was thrown into a culture that she didn’t have any understanding of. I think it was a bridge too far. But, hey… I am a person who’s capable of admitting when they’re wrong. At this moment, given all the information and what I know to be true today, I think Lucinda Dickey was the best choice we could have made… She brought a certain point of view that all the other breakdancers in the film didn’t have. I think that’s also true for the love story. Me being portrayed as a Latino or Black American and a white girl working harmoniously together – that’s something to be admired… There was a chance for everyone to see themselves within the culture… the fact that she was kind of a fish out of water, it helped to bring the culture into mainstream.”
To me these movies are not only special because of their surface pleasures and positive messages, but because of the ways they as pieces of art have transformed through the passage of time and changing of cultural context. I don’t want to sound like I’m overstating things, so let’s not say that the two BREAKIN’ movies contain within them a schematic of the entire fabric of reality, of order and chaos, entropy and negentropy. Let’s just say they’re an alchemist’s handbook to creation and metamorphosis. That’s all.
Consider that they were made as exploitation – an Israeli production company known for ninja movies, trying to monetize the novelty of a largely African American and Latin-American subculture. At the time, most of the world assumed breakdancing was a fad, and Cannon pumped out two movies in a year as if the expiration date was barreling down on them.
Yet 37 years later, in a world I believe was partially nudged into existence by the popularity of the BREAKIN’ movies, breakdancing not only didn’t go away – it became an Olympic sport! The hip hop culture from which it sprung not only outlasted any fad (ninjas, Lambada, Chuck Norris movies, Cannon Films), it replaced much of what had been pop culture up to that point. BREAKIN’ 1&2’s featured rapper Ice-T (who in 1984 had only had a few underground singles) later pioneered a new style, became a massively successful recording artist, then a movie star, then a star of one of the longest running shows in television history, and he’s not even the most successful rapper to take that path. I think you could argue it’s more novel these days to have a rock band than to be a rapper or make beats. Maybe it’s time for ROCKIN’.
In the context of this post-BREAKIN’ 2 world, the sequel’s once glaring lack of authenticity has metamorphosized into one of its biggest strengths. As Quinones said in the book, “It had a very different tone and atmosphere… much lighter, much more playfulness. All those things that I’ve really come to admire about the picture I initially didn’t care for at the time.”
There are more accurate fictional documents of early hip hop culture, but there’s no other day-glo pop-fantasy stick-it-to-the-man breakdance musical. BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO is the ‘80s as we wish they were, as dreamt by the ‘80s that actually existed, grown into a model for ideals to strive for today. We deserve to live in a world with this much color, where we get to play music loud all day, give ourselves cool names and flashy outfits if we want to, where our artistic expression has the power to repel developers away from our cherished neighborhood institutions and inspire rich people to stop being racist and to use their money for good. We deserve a world where, outside of occasional non-violent gang rumbles, people of all races not only get along, but genuinely love and enjoy each other. And if Ice-T wants to periodically do songs summarizing what’s up, that would be cool too.
I believe in the beat.
*56 Fremont Place in Los Angeles, which once belonged to Mary Pickford and was later in THE ARTIST and was Famke Janssen’s home in TAKEN and TAKEN 2 (which, I really want to emphasize, rhymes with BREAKIN’ and BREAKIN’ 2). It’s across the street from a mansion that appeared in Charlie Chaplin’s THE KID and was Rocky Balboa’s home in ROCKY III and in real life belonged to Muhammad Ali, which is why there are pictures of Ali hanging out with the cast of BREAKIN’ 2.
Lots of Roos product placement (including “Team Roos” t-shirts and a painter’s cap that Special K wears), “Say Pepsi” painter caps somebody must’ve been passing out, a guy dancing at Radiotron (and later outside) in a Tor Johnson mask, Kelly’s handcuff belt that she even wears to a straight dance audition, Ozone’s civil war soldier hat with animal tail on the back, Turbo’s marching band jacket, much more prominent use of fluorescent colors and zebra prints.
Part 1’s end credits used a cool font on a red background. Part 2 uses a more standard font, but in yellow, on a blue background. It’s such a small thing, but I really think these extra splashes of color are part of what make the BREAKIN’ movies the BREAKIN’ movies. I love it like I love colored vinyl.
This one doesn’t have Van Damme in it, but Lela Rochon, who was in KNOCK OFF with him, is apparently dancing in it somewhere. (I’ve read that she was also in the first one, and was married to Shabba Doo at the time.) “Toy Soldiers” singer Martika is also reportedly a dancer in this somewhere, but I don’t really know what she looks like.
UPDATE: And as Mark Palermo informed me in the comments, Angelo Moore from Fishbone is in there too! He can be seen right after Ozone comes down from dancing on the roof of Miracles. Fishbone’s first EP (the one with “Party at Ground Zero”) had come out a few months before the movie – I wonder if any fans noticed him?
Shrimp claims in interviews that Lionel Richie’s song “Dancing on the Ceiling” was inspired by his famous BREAKIN’ 2 scene literally about dancing on the ceiling. Normally I assume claims like that are probly bullshit, but since Shrimp was in the “All Night Long” video
and toured with Richie as part of Shabba Doo’s crew, maybe it really is true and verified from the horse’s mouth. (The song’s Wikipedia page doesn’t address it.)
Shrimp went on to play Urkelbot on Family Matters and I guess was sort of the go-to guy for choreographing the toon community in the ‘90s, since he worked with Bart Simpson on “Do the Bartman” and MC Skat Cat in the “Opposites Attract” video.
Shabba Doo later choreographed for Madonna, co-starred in Cannon and Joel Silberg’s further danceploitation movie LAMBADA, was in TANGO & CASH and STEEL FRONTIER, and directed the 1993 film RAVE, DANCING TO A DIFFERENT BEAT, co-written with HALLOWEEN 6 writer Daniel Farrands. In 2017 he made a documentary about the history of locking called THE KINGS OF CRENSHAW. He was still trying to develop a serious-toned BREAKIN’ 3 when he suddenly died on December 29th, 2020.
This Grantland piece by Matt Patches is focused on why the “Electric Boogaloo” subtitle became such an overused joke, but it has plenty of info I haven’t seen anywhere else, including who the writers were and what they were dealing with.
That book I quoted from in this piece is really an incredible resource if you’re a fan of these movies, other Sam Firstenberg works like the NINJA series and the AMERICAN NINJA series, or just Cannon films in general. Definitely recommended.
Shabba Doo in particular comes across really well in this reunion only half a year before his unfortunate death. I also like the appearance by part 1’s Christopher McDonald, who seems extremely proud of BREAKIN’ and seems very sincere when he congratulates the others on the sequel.
Oh, and by the way, BREAKIN’ 2 (but not part 1) can currently be streamed free (with ads) on Tubi.