In 1984, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus produced John Cassavettes’ classic Love Streams for the Cannon Group. A year later, they racked up three Oscar nominations for Runaway Train, based on a story by Akira Kurosawa and directed by Andrei Tarkovsky’s protgé Andrei Konchalovsky. Based on that pedigree, not to mention their associations with GOAT filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard, Roman Polanski, and Tobe Hooper (who does too belong on that list), you’d think they were sensitive artistes. But that was just a side hustle. Golan and Globus were much more invested in pumping out ludicrous garbage too fast to realize how little sense any of it made. At the same time they were bringing Cassavettes’ vision to the big screen, Golan and Globus were also releasing schlock like Breakin’, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, Bolero, Ninja III: The Domination, Missing in Action, and nearly a dozen others, each one of them (even the period piece) the eightiesest thing you’ve ever seen.
There’s other throughlines through these movies too. Many great artists have put blood, sweat, and tears into creating masterpieces of surrealism. But as anyone who’s seen The Apple knows, Golan and Globus’ work shows anyone can get those results if they just care little enough about making sense. Huge chunks of these movies are inexplicable by any earth logic. One scene in Missing in Action is just the cameraman filming a TV playing a Spider-Man cartoon for upwards of a minute. In another, Chuck Norris leaves the scene, but we stay there just barely long enough to see some rando plonk a naked woman on the bar like a sack of potatoes. Then we immediately smash cut to another location, never to hear from either of them again. The climactic (heh) sex scene of Bolero takes place in an empty void full of dry ice and a neon sign that says “Extasy.” The spelling only makes slightly more sense if you’ve seen the whole movie. In another scene, star Bo Derek watches a belly dancer’s belly slackjawed and goggle-eyed like a baby watching a monkey in the zoo. And in Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, a man with clown makeup on the bottom half of his face hangs around the background for an excruciatingly long time before he’s introduced as “Magician.” Despite the allegedly gritty urban setting, the stars, Shabba-Doo and Boogaloo Shrimp (yes, those are their names) live in a fantasy treehouse out of a kiddie show with a life-size doll inexplicably sitting in the corner.
And these movies all exist in a kind of uncanny valley of acting and dialogue. Outsider films like The Room and Manos: The Hands of Fate are often celebrated for the strange glimpse they give into an alternate universe through their warped understanding of human behavior, but Golan and Globus’ films show that even industry professionals can create the same effect if, again, they just don’t care. Bolero’s Olivia D’Abo can barely keep a straight face in the essential documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films as she recalls the climactic scene where Bo Derek tells her impotent lover, “That thing” — pointing straight at this dick — “is going to work,” before adding, with a big, cheesy, Dale-Cooper thumbs up, “I guarantee you this!”
That same movie includes lines like, “I am woman — Ready. Juicy, too!” and “I believe today is the day I become an excessively rich little bitch!” And here’s some gems from some of the others: You are under severe stress, of course, but otherwise doctor Bowen, the psychiatrist you saw, says there’s nothing out of the ordinary. Aside from your exceptional extrasensory perception and your preoccupation with Japanese culture. No harm in that!” “You don’t know how much power we really have, do you? We’ll go to the press and we’ll fight this thing all the way.” Or this exchange: “Ozone, look at this jive letter they sent me this mornin’ from City Hall.” “What’s this baloney?” And they’re all delivered with a detached flatness that’s downright bizarre. It’s not fair to say the actors sound bored, since, if anything, they overemote. There’s really no context for it in the real world, or the world of competent movies.
Ironically, the trend-chasing Breakin’ ended up latching onto a “fad” that turned out to be much more lasting than any of the things the filmmakers took for granted. This isn’t to say it’s aged well, though, since its idea of high fashion includes, among other things, a leather Civil War cap with a skunk tail hanging from it. Forty years on, it’s pretty clear hip hop is here to stay, but Golan and Globus were dead set on getting Breakin’ to theaters before the fad died out. The screws were especially tight because Orion (which, with its library of classic genre movies, is basically what Cannon could have been if it was any good) was producing its own movie on the subject. The mantra around the studio was “We have to beat Beat Street!”
Beat Street has a classic soundtrack featuring everyone from the Furious Five to the Treacherous Three. The most Breakin’ can offer is a bunch of synth pop with about as much street cred as Cyndi Lauper and a pre-fame Ice-T dressed in Mad Max S&M gear and a fedora and clearly not bringing his A material. (He’s made no secret since then that he thinks the movies are “wack.”) Breakin’ says up front who it’s for, showing breakdancing culture through the eyes of a white girl, played by gymnast Lucinda Dickey, who tries to get in on it. The rest of the cast resented having to play backup to a white girl, which wiser filmmakers might have taken as a sign to rethink the whole thing, but Breakin’ 2 director Sam Firstenberg claims that enhances the movies because that’s what the story was about anyway. Then again, Shabba-Doo may have been acting more out of personal ego than racial pride, since the documentary also features sound bites from him like, “They see me as some sort of urban superhero” and claims that without Breakin’, “We wouldn’t have hip hop as we know it today” and that “It did something the United Nations hasn’t been able to do, which was to bring nations together under one roof.” This, again, is a man who willingly goes by the name Shabba-Doo.
The last act involves the leads’ struggles to be accepted by the suits on Broadway. The filmmakers don’t seem to have considered that real breakdancers might not care about what the racist establishment said about them. That’s completely in character for Golan and Globus, two Israeli immigrants who were desperate to be accepted by a Hollywood elite who saw them as grubby schlockmongers if not worse.
In the climax of Breakin’, the heroes finally make it, in a hilariously chintzy stage version of urban life. That might have been foreshadowing for Breakin’ 2, which takes a hard left into something closer to a traditional musical, with crowds in the street spontaneously breaking and breakdancing into song. There’s even one truly bizarre scene where, after Boogaloo Shrimp is hospitalized after a stunt double two or three times his size falls down some stairs, all the nurses and patients in the hospital get up and start breakdancing, including one old man with a walker and another who just flatlined. This is a fantasy LA where all the graffiti is neon and color-coded and gang wars are settled by dance-offs.
The cast was horrified, but Breakin’ 2’s decision to go over-the-top and then over the top of that makes for a much more entertaining movie than the original. Cannon’s other films this year rarely even rise to the level of good-bad. But if it weren’t for the staggering miscalculation of the whole concept, Breakin’ 2 would be just plain good-good. One scene dizzyingly cuts between Boogaloo and Shabba-Doo dancing with that fucking doll as it turns into Dickey and the girl Boogaloo’s trying to impress before they rip it to shreds. I’d be prepared to call it brilliant rewriting of cinematic language if there was any indication anyone involved had any idea how creepy and weird it is. One setpiece has Boogaloo Shrimp dancing all over the walls and ceiling. His moves are great, of course, and so is the filmmaking — the room revolves invisibly, and I dare you to find the seams. It also has a much better soundtrack than Breakin’, even if it isn’t more authentic — check out this banger:
And then there’s that title. It came directly from Menahem Golan himself, and no one knows what the fuck it means. You could draw a connection to Boogaloo Shrimp, but he’s still just Shabba-Doo’s sidekick — he gets more to do this time, but not much. It’s so strange, and has such a strange rhythm and rhyme to it, that it’s become the go-to for wacky sequel titles. Or at least it was, until white nationalists ruined it, as they do so many things, by using it as their euphemism for violent uprising, shorthand for “Civil War 2: Electric Boogaloo.” But then, since they’ve shorthanded it further to “Big Luau” and “Big Igloo” to keep their little clique impenetrable to outsiders, maybe it’s safe to reference it again. And no, the irony of a bunch of racist anti-Semites coopting a Black-and-Latino-led movie from two Jewish producers does not escape me.