DELIVERY BOYS is a breakdancing movie that, according to IMDb, was released in April of 1985. That puts it only a few months after BREAKIN’ 2. But the title and poster do not indicate a breakdancing movie, it was barely released in theaters, and on video it had the cartoony painted art of an ‘80s sex comedy. So I never knew it existed until I was researching RAPPIN’, saw that this was Melvin Van Peebles’ only previous major role, and read a plot description. Then some of you told me to check it out.
Although it’s weird that they hid the breakdancing on the posters, it’s also the horny pizza delivery comedy they advertised it as. It’s about a day in the life of a bunch of dudes who work at a New York City pizza joint called Ben’s, who also happen to be a breakdance crew called The Delivery Boys, and the hijinks that occur while they’re on the job are part of a scheme to keep them from making it to the Brooklyn Bridge Break Dance Contest tonight.
It took me a minute to realize how broad it was gonna get. In the early scenes I was struck by how natural it seems compared to the (otherwise superior) BREAKIN’ movies. It opens with a very long sequence of the boys in a small church lobby, cheering each other on as they take turns windmilling and flipping to a charmingly awkward theme song where they chant about “We are the delivery boys, yeah the delivery boys / We’re the greatest, greatest / We’ll be breakin’ away until we’ve taken the day / as the greatest breakdance company…”
They’re all in athletic gear except one guy named Scandal (Yayo Gonzalez), who wears silver boots, vest and headband like he’s in P-Funk. I kept wondering why that guy is such a show off, but pretty soon you figure out he’s some eccentric who only speaks a nonsense language, and when you get a better look at him you realize he has silver in his hair and silver Spock type extensions on his ears. A precursor to Jaden Smith’s character on The Get-Down. Or at least the robot man in the STEP UP sequels.
Otherwise though these are very regular working class dudes, most of them Puerto Rican or Italian American I think, one guy Paulie (Deckard Fontanes, also credited as assistant to the director) wears a yarmulke, which I thought was cool, I don’t think I’ve seen that in another hip hop movie. When they’re not working they have this little place with graffiti murals and crappy couches where they lift weights, box and of course breakdance. They’re crammed in there with their tank tops or less-than-half shirts or no shirts, getting sweaty – you get the sense this movie smells like a locker room.
Max (Josh Marcano) is kind of the main guy, a nice kid who’s worried about his brother Izzie (Nelson Vasquez, also the choreographer) because he stopped dancing and just drinks all the time. And there’s Joey (Tom Sierchio), a Lou-Ferrigno-lookin fella who likes to sit cross-legged on the counter at work, meditating. And their rich friend Conrad (Jim Soriero, “Gang Member,” CROCODILE DUNDEE II) is introduced in a sweater vest, lamenting that he’s bored and “all confused inside,” and having his chauffeur Babcock (Crist Swann, one episode of The Cosby Show) drop him off for his secret life as a delivery boy.
There’s also Fast Action (Rodney Harvey, MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO), official manager of the team, who never stops sounding like a New York version of Jason Mewes.
The goofiness becomes more apparent when we meet Van Peebles as Spider, non-dancing manager of rival crew The Devil Dogs. He comes with two sidekicks (I guess they’re called “Jazz Mace” and “Wild Man,” played by Naylon Mitchell and Ralph Cole Jr., who had both been dancers in BEAT STREET). They come to Ben’s to threaten their boss Angelina (Jody Oliver, whose only other credit is “Brainiac” in BASKET CASE 2) into keeping her employees away from the contest. Spider (who has a Jamaican accent, perhaps getting Van Peebles the role in JAWS: THE REVENGE) shows that he’s serious by pulling out an 8×10 of last year’s winners, The Big Shots, and placing a shrunken head on top of each person in the photo. Then – as if it’s not enough that he apparently murdered three human beings and carries remains in his jacket pocket – he pulls out what are indicated to be the Big Shots’, uh, mummified dicks. He also kisses one of them.
So the middle chunk of the movie is dedicated to subplots about three of the Boys being caught up during a delivery. Max’s story is about going to a fancy penthouse, where a young woman (Kelly Nichols, THE TOOLBOX MURDERS and a bunch of porn)starts instructing him over a speaker. (Let’s all agree this inspired Mia doing that to Vincent in PULP FICTION.) She lures him upstairs and of course ends up seducing him, which is fine, I get it, but it gets a little more problematic™when he tries to go back to work but she threatens him with her doberman Spot and says her dad is in the other room and “what would he say if a Puerto Rican delivery boy came tiptoeing out of his daughter’s bedroom after ravaging her?” Max seems unoffended by this and sticks around but then tries to sneak out wearing a wig, dress and heels which leads to him being trapped by the dog in a bathroom where the girl’s dad thinks he’s the new maid and tries to force him to suck his dick through a glory hole but he tricks the dog into doing it. Obviously.
And of course there are dumb jokes about people being shocked to see a man in a dress, but I like that he rides his bike to the contest, dances in it and doesn’t seem embarrassed or even act like it’s supposed to be a gimmick.
Conrad’s distraction is getting roped into a human experiment that involves watching sexy nurses (porn star Taija Rae and Suzanne Remey Lawrence, “Peep Show Girl #1” in NIGHT OF THE JUGGLER) do a strip dance. It doesn’t do it for him but one of the doctors plays piano and a singer (Deborah Quayle, MUTANT WAR) duets with him and it gives him blue balls. So his big slapstick setpiece is trying to get home while hiding a giant boner and then he accidentally penetrates a woman on the bus and she seems happy with it which is a bad message for the kids in my opinion.
Tony’s dilemma is being set up to break a statue at an art gallery and have to be painted up naked and pretend to be the statue for the opening. Some of the jokes include 1) he farts and 2) he pees into champagne glasses and two snobs drink it and don’t realize it’s pee 3) his mom shows up and recognizes his hairy ass and spanks him.
But they wiggle out of their predicaments and show up to the contest and win (spoiler) after Izzie joins in. One joke that I thought was well executed is when Tony shows up late, naked, and asks a random guy in the crowd if he has any shorts on him, and the guy pulls some out of his jacket like it’s normal. What’s maybe an accident but oddly appealing to me is that this kind of ultra-broad lowbrow wackiness is occasionally interrupted with raw sincerity, like a scene where one of the Boys (sorry, I couldn’t figure out his name) goes to church and prays to God to win the contest, or when they say stuff like, “We the best. We need to be. Man, what else we got in this world?”
And in that spirit, they use the ROCKY type ending, freeze framing as they celebrate. Except then there’s an epilogue where they all gather around a flaming barrel and listen thoughtfully to Angelina playing acoustic guitar and Max singing a not-terrible song about their accomplishments together called “Ain’t No Place to Go But Higher,” as scenes from earlier dissolve in and out.
It’s a full 4 1/2 minute scene that builds into a rock ballad and ends on a shot of the Twin Towers. It’s such a weird ending for this movie and that’s what makes it a great ending and therefore makes the movie itself more interesting.
I know this isn’t important, but I want to mention that the pizza prices seem inconsistent. Max says that one pizza is $11.42, then there’s a two pie order that’s $12-something, but and there’s six for $32. Maybe he had a coupon. Or maybe we need better pizza consultants on these productions.
Van Peebles is the only person involved who became a household name. But there are a couple postscripts to note. Rodney Harvey, who plays Fast Action, had already been in Paul Morrisey’s MIXED BLOOD, and followed this with THE RETURN OF BILLY JACK, the mysterious unfinished Billy Jack movie. He sort of became a hot teen actor, appearing in SPIKE OF BENSONHURST, the Twin Peaks pilot, the TV series of The Outsiders, a Calvin Klein commercial, MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, and GUNCRAZY. But he was an addict and died of an o.d. in 1998 at the age of 30. He has his own E! True Hollywood Story called Poisoned Dreams: Rodney Harvey. Bummer.
On a more positive note, choreographer/guy-who-plays-Izzie Nelson Vasquez went on to appear in many notable New York productions, including as a dancer in Michael Jackson’s Bad and actor in DO THE RIGHT THING, CARLITO’S WAY [plus the prequel RISE TO POWER], MONEY TRAIN and ‘R XMAS. And Tom Sierchio, who played Joey the naked statue, did not continue acting, but became a stuntman starting with THE TOXIC AVENGER and later THE HEAT and TRAINWRECK. But in the middle of all that somehow he also wrote UNTAMED HEART, the Christian Slater baboon heart movie. He was also the stunt coordinator. Isn’t that a wild career? Somebody do a documentary about him.
But the most interesting cast and crew biographical detail I learned from watching this on the DVD put out last year by Scorpion Releasing. It includes an interview with director of photography Larry Revene, a veteran of porn and b-movies and director of DEEP THROAT II. He explains that DELIVERY BOYS was “basically a vanity project” for writer/director/songwriter Ken Handler, “heir to the Mattel fortune,” who he says paid for the movie “out of pocket” and even used his home as the rich girl’s home. He wanted to make a movie and hooked up with producer Chuck Vincent (director of WIMPS, WARRIOR QUEEN, BEDROOM EYES II, etc.), who provided him with a crew and advice and porn stars to do the nudie parts.
Revene’s recollections are entertainingly candid. He calls the song at the end “maudlin” and “very slow and boring” and speculates that it might’ve been left in to pad the movie to a contractually obligated length. But he’s complimentary of the dancing and the fact that Handler wrote all the songs. They’re humorously corny at times but yes, better than you’d expect from a toy company heir previously not known to be a musician. He says that rich boy Handler was very sympathetic to the working class cast members, but condescending to him and the crew.
Handler (who died of a brain tumor in 1994) was the son of Elliot and Ruth Handler. Elliot was the co-founder of Mattel (the “el” comes from his name) and Ruth was the creator of Barbie, who she named after their daughter Barbara. So yes, it is a fact: DELIVERY BOYS is directed by the Ken who Barbie’s boyfriend Ken was named after.
And that actually solves a mystery about the movie. Conrad is this unhappy rich kid whose father is gonna be pissed because he’s “bored with the board” and missed the board meeting. I was wondering why this was established at the beginning, but never turned into a plot point (like in STEP UP 3 when they find out Natalie is the sister of the rich kid and it’s a betrayal). But there’s my answer: this is a movie made by an actual rich kid who wants to ditch his dad’s company to hang out with breakdancers. That seemingly broad cliche in the movie is actually autobiographical!
In conclusion, DELIVERY BOYS is not the best breakdancing movie or the best ‘80s comedy, but any time the guy that Ken is named after decides to use his money to hire a porn company to make a cheesy comedy that also is kind of heartfelt and has some dancing and natural performances by non-actors, that’s something I support. That’s just my policy.