September 1984 was an uneasy time in our nation’s history. The breakdancing movie “Breakin'” had been released, but its follow-up, “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo,” was still three months away. “Beat Street,” also about breakdancing, had come and gone. The multiplexes were full of films about other, lesser topics, including gremlins, ghostbusters, and temples of doom, but there was a scarcity of breakdancing, except in real life, where it was taking place everydamnwhere.
Then, just as America despaired of ever seeing another breakdancing movie, along came another breakdancing movie! It was called “Body Rock,” and it starred Lorenzo Lamas, from TV’s “Falcon Crest.” Lamas was not what you’d call an expert dancer or singer or actor, but this didn’t matter to the producers of “Body Rock,” who merely needed someone who was moderately good-looking and willing to appear in something with the title “Body Rock.” Lamas had these qualities in spades.
Lamas plays Chester, a swarthy, unemployed New Yorker who calls himself Chilly and spends his evenings installing art exhibits on city walls through the medium of spray paint. OK, he’s a graffitist who defaces private property. Tomato, to-mah-to. He and his buddies consider their work to be of the utmost artistic value — a view the film shares, by the way, as evidenced by the opening-credit sequence, in which Chilly and friends paint a train car to the accompaniment of a song with these lyrics:
Have you heard about Shakespeare?
He used to write a lot of good stuff.
In a funny kind of way, you could say
He was writing on the world! [Note: No, you couldn’t.]
Brother Moses was all right
Went up the mountain in a big huff
Then he came down with the word, so I heard.
That was writing on the world! [Note: No, it wasn’t.]
If you can’t get your name lights
In Hollywood or on those Broadway nights,
You can make your signature unfold
And your word or mark is told
By that writing on the wall!
Spray it on
Till every drop is gone!
Make it big
Make it bold
Get your story told!
In other words, if no one will listen to you, your best option is vandalism. This message is brought to you by Chilly, and the Unabomber.
After this credit sequence comes an ill-fated trip to the employment office, where Chilly half-heartedly looks for work while wearing a bandana, a denim jacket, and an unbuttoned shirt revealing a carpet of matted chest hair. The woman asks him if this is how he dresses for job interviews, and he says it is. “I like to look fresh,” he explains. This, coupled with his intense stupidity, might be why he’s unemployed.
But Chilly is not a deadbeat! He has ambition! You question how much ambition a person can have when he lacks the willpower to button his own shirt, but still. He tells his friend E-Z (Cameron Dye), “If we had management, we’d be riding around in limousines, wearing leather pants, buying condos.” Now, I’ve actually done all three of those things, and I did them without a manager, and none of them are really all that great, but more to the point: graffiti artists need managers? What? Is that for real? Is that a thing?
It turns out Chilly and E-Z do other things, too, besides spray-paint buildings. They also hang out at a club, where E-Z scratches records (in the musical way, not the vandalism way) and their buddies breakdance. A rapper is also involved. Chilly is the emcee of their little crew, so he doesn’t have to do anything except watch the breakdancing, of which there is plenty. Boy howdy, is there ever a lot of breakdancing in this movie. There’s 45 minutes of it in the first 20 minutes alone, don’t ask me how. Audiences starving for hot, loud breakdancing action must have felt great relief when they stumbled into “Body Rock,” their appetites sated until the next time they could see breakdancing, i.e., when they walked out of the theater and onto the sidewalk. Seriously, breakdancing in 1984 was like the Black Plague in 1348.
Chilly talks his way into the office of a talent manager named Terrence (Ray Sharkey), who actually has represented graffiti artists. So I wasn’t crazy, that really was why Chilly wanted a manager. Terrence isn’t interested in representing him and E-Z, no matter how colorful their illegal exhibits may be. But as it happens, Terrence is ALSO about to open a new nightclub, and Chilly convinces him to come check out his crew, called Body Rock, this Friday, to see if maybe he’d like to hire them to perform at his place. The graffiti thing, I guess, was just a hobby. What Chilly really wants to do is be an emcee! Yes, an emcee! You know the people who are performing? Chilly wants to stand adjacent to them.
Terrence and his entourage come to the show Friday night, and there’s a lot of breakdancing — I didn’t have my stopwatch, but it was probably another 75 minutes’ worth — and Terrence is duly impressed. He tells Chilly the next day that he wants to hire him — not the whole Body Rock crew, but him, Chilly. Not the DJ, not the rapper, not the dancers, but Chilly. The one who didn’t do anything. What happened is, the screenwriters remembered that the main character is supposed to achieve his goals, but forgot that he needs to achieve them by DOING something. It is a common mistake among people who have never written a movie before, or seen one.
In fairness to Chilly, I should mention that when he knew Terrence was coming to the show, he did spend half a day learning breakdancing moves from Magick (La Ron A. Smith), a genuinely talented junior member of the crew. Chilly didn’t use these moves in the show that Terrence saw. But at least he learned them, and at least the movie had an excuse to show us some more breakdancing, which up to this point had been in alarmingly scarce supply.
Chilly is conflicted about leaving the crew behind, but E-Z tells him to take the job. He reasons that once Chilly has established himself in Terrence’s operation, he can bring everyone else in. Chilly goes along with this, takes the job, and immediately forsakes his friends in favor of doing cocaine 24/7 with a trashy girl named Claire (Vicki Frederick) in her loft apartment. He even forgets about E-Z’s nice sister, Darlene (Michelle Nicastro), whom he was dating for a few minutes, but who suffered from a tragic lack of cocaine and loft apartments.
At this point, you would expect to see a montage of Chilly working at Terrence’s club, being an emcee, or spray-painting walls, or whatever Terrence has hired him to do. But the movie hides those details from us. All we need to know is that he works at Terrence’s club, and that he’s forgotten his old friends. And then, bam, he’s telling Terrence the next step is to cut a record, because I guess Chilly is a singer now? Apparently? So the natural progression is: graffiti artist, emcee, recording star? What comes after that? Unicyclist? Brick-layer? Pope?
Sure enough, Chilly is a singer! Well, insofar as he sings one song. It’s called “Smooth Talker,” and it contains these lyrics:
I’m gonna stalk you like an animal and eat you like a cannibal, and make your body pay.
Smooth talker indeed!
Anyway, having turned his back on his friends, Chilly is due for a humbling. This occurs when Terrence’s business partner, a creepy, sweaty bisexual dude named Donald (Joseph Whipp), makes a pass at Chilly, is rebuffed, and gets revenge by firing him. Donald also registers the name “Body Rock” so that Chilly’s old friends can’t use it professionally. Honestly. He really does that. It makes it seem like hiring Chilly in the first place was just part of an elaborate scheme to get the rights to the name “Body Rock.” Which makes as much sense as anything.
There’s an event called Rapstravaganza that Chilly’s old crew and the Donald-and-Terrence-owned Body Rock are competing in, enabling the film to fulfill its destiny — and the destiny of all dance movies — by ending with a dance contest. Chilly doesn’t apologize to his friends, but they forgive him and make him their leader again anyway. So maybe the relationship is abusive. Not my concern. A great deal more breakdancing occurs, more than you would have thought possible, and the movie finally ends. That’s when you realize the whole film is nothing but a dumber version of “Saturday Night Fever” — which is like being a trashier version of Wal-Mart — and you vow to never watch another Lorenzo Lamas movie (assuming there are others). Much like Chilly’s street paintings, “Body Rock” is more crime than art.