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Body Rock
(1984)

Director: Marcelo Epstein      
Cast:
Lorenzo Lamas, Vicki Frederick, Cameron Dye


Several years ago, I stated that I hate Lorenzo Lamas. Though since he had made a presence for himself in the B movie world, I realized that Oh, you're SO COOL, buddy!I very well couldn't completely ignore him, so subsequently my review of Terminal Justice became my token coverage of him. At least, that's what I thought at the time. Several times since then, I have had reason to wonder if maybe I was a little too harsh on the man. Despite my utter dislike of the man, I had to admit that maybe, just maybe, there was a possibility that he had been shoehorned into playing parts that maybe didn't expose some genuine talent he had. When you look at Lamas in any of the movies he's been in for the last fifteen years or so, it's obvious by looking at him that he's so poor that he's forced to sleep in some back alley, and without the availability of shampoo, laundry detergent, or a razor. Obviously, casting directors looking at this scruffy-looking guy would never cast him in a Shakespearian drama or anything else of an A-class nature, so Lamas has been stuck playing roles in crude and cheap movies, which almost totally have all been of an action nature. Recently I found one of those few exceptions, and I felt it was only right to give Lamas a second chance, seeing that he would be doing something different that the same old thing. That movie was Body Rock - a movie whose blurb "A RAPSTRAVAGANZA MOVIE WITH DYNAMIC MUSIC! SPECTACULAR DANCE SEQUENCES!" fully illustrated to me just what playful and charming side to Lamas' persona he would be given a rare opportunity to display.

Let your mind go back to the '80s, and you will remember that the gangs in any big American city weren't into drugs and drive-bys, but who lived and breathed dancing and jumping around on the streets, as movies like Breakin' illustrated. The kids in Body Rock are no different. The "Body Rock" gang, decked out in their baggy, torn, and multicolored clothing, bop and strut their stuff during the opening credits, in the middle of the street during midday traffic. (New York drivers are known for their patience, as the movie illustrates.) Lamas plays one of these Body Rock members, and don't you dare call his character by his real name "Chester". He's so hot, he goes by the tag "Chilly D". (The "D", it's later explained, stands for "dangerous".) Chilly seems happy with the prospect of a career in jumping around and spray-painting subway trains. He certainly hasn't given much thought to anything else, as an early scene in an employment center illustrates:

EMPLOYMENT COUNSELOR: What kind of work would you like?

CHILLY: (Long pause) I would... well... basically anything.

EO: There must be some kind of work you would do.

CHILLY: (Pause) Well... I wouldn't want to do anything... nasty.

EO: Such as?

CHILLY: Such as... I wouldn't want to be a... trashman or something like that

EO: If you could do anything you want, what would that be?

CHILLY: Anything? (Long pause) I would like to be... like.. Muhammad Ali

EO: Oh, so you box!

CHILLY: No.

EO: Mmm. When you go out for job interviews, do you usually dress like you have today? (Indicating his dusty red pants, raggy headband, ripped jean jacket, and open shirt exposing his hairy chest)

CHILLY: Absolutely! I like to look fresssshhhh!

Life is good for Chilly. He doesn't seem to feel any pressure to get a job, he doesn't even seem to feel any pressure to help his kindly bedridden and (apparently) He left The Undertones to star in movies like this? (Oops - wrong Sharkey)substance-abusing mother. Actually, there are signs that she tried some tough love on the boy, but apparently gave up since Chilly seems perfectly content to sleep the night away on the living room couch. He has apparently found he doesn't even have to break a sweat to impress the homies. When his gang performs at some underground nightclub, he more or less just stands in the background and claps his hands. Romance even seems to be on the horizon for him. It's made clear after the character of Darlene (Michelle Nicastro, Santa Barbara) is introduced, with this previously unseen and unmentioned character suddenly walking into the nightclub and catching Chilly's eye. Seconds later, he asks his best friend (Dye, Valley Girl) "Listen, E-Z, do you think she'd think it strange, me asking her out since I've known her so long, and she being your kid sister?" But life gets even better; Chilly decides to get the Body Rock gang the fame they deserve, and manages to wangle a famous promoter (the late Ray Sharkey) into seeing his crew perform - and himself, having finally getting dance lessons a few days earlier. Honest. And I'm also not fibbing in reporting that Sharkey's character decides after the performance that he only wants Chilly to rap and dance for the patrons of the new swank nightclub he's about to open.

Actually, it's very likely that you more or less guessed that last plot turn for yourself. Not only that, you've probably correctly guessed by this point a number of things yet to come in the movie. I bet you've probably guessed that at the opening night of the club, Chilly proves to be an instant hit with the crowd. Then that in short notice, Chilly finds himself bombarded with things associated with the good life, like his own apartment, limousine service, and the promise of a recording contract. As well, associating with a lot of interested females, including one particular high class woman who is several years older than our hero. And that because of hanging around with this new crowd, Chilly starts to forget about his old friends and the sister of his best friend, who all in short notice feel disgust and resentment against him. And that around that time, Chilly's cushy world breaks apart when he abruptly gets fired, and he's forced to do some deep soul-searching now that he's alone on those mean streets. Then not long after... well, if you didn't know before starting this paragraph, you certainly have by this point. Need I make the redundant statement that Body Rock is clichéd to the max, as someone from that era might have put it?

This is an old, old formula, with only two real cosmetic changes to differentiate it. One being that, for once, the promoter in this case is not portrayed as a sleazy opportunist who rips off or deceives the star-struck The horror of Lamas' feminine side is finally shown!protagonist. Sharkey's character actually doesn't appear that much in the movie, but judging from the little we get to see of him, he comes across as a decent person.  He's shown to be patient, allowing this grotesquely-dressed and unmannered young man to talk to him for a few minutes when he drops by unexpectedly. Later, when he tells Chilly that he's been fired he's clearly uncomfortable having to tell this bad news. It wasn't his decision, incidentally, and that's where the second difference this movie has from others of its ilk. Chilly's firing comes not because of corporate greed, but that he punched the daylights out of the real string-puller - after that guy took him to a gay bar and on the dance floor gave him a big smooch on the lips in front of dozens of transvestites and leather bikers. Well, that's certainly more original, and I can't help but wonder just how much more entertaining the rest of the movie would have played out if those other scenes had been treated with the same creative flair.

While we are on the subject of Lamas being greatly humiliated, I guess it's an appropriate time to get into how Lamas manages to come across in this atypical role. Though when you think about it, it may have been more appropriate to discuss this two paragraphs ago when I was talking about painful predictability, since I don't think anyone reading this who has been unfortunate to previously see anything with Lamas will even be remotely considering the possibility he could have pulled it off. Lamas isn't just bad, he's completely hopeless. Apparently it never crossed the minds of the producers to cast the part of Chilly with someone who could dance - or at least someone who could be taught to reasonably make the moves. But Lamas doesn't even have a body that resembles that of a dancer; with all four of his limbs lean and long, his moving and shaking of them make him resemble a puppet on strings, and the effect is unintentionally comical. The problem of Lamas' appearance isn't just limited to his body shape, but his facial features. Without his usual five o'clock stubble, his turned-up and puffed-out lips are even more evident, resting on a never-changing facial expression that seems more appropriate for the Archie comic character Moose during a particularly head-scratching moment.

It gets even worse. See Lamas in outfits like suspenders over a white button shirt with torn-off sleeves, or a black leather trenchcoat with "CHILLY" on the back in Would you believe it... someone actually ripped off "Pink Lady & Jeff"!neon colors! See Lamas trying unsuccessfully to come across as cool with lines like "Put the freeze on!" or "Feast your eyes on the prize!" See Lamas trying his hand at rapping! Or sing the song "Smooth Talker", which got a Golden Raspberry nomination for worst movie song of the year! In fact, Lamas was also nominated for worst actor that year, and you have to wonder how on earth he lost. Though his sheer inability to do anything right provides ample amusement half the time, the other time it finds a way to get under your skin and annoy you. When his character expresses pride or some feeling of happiness, there's something in his tone of voice that makes you want to respond with a fist. The few times Lamas smiles, it comes across as a sneery smirk. When he starts to put the moves on his best friend's sister, your stomach churns. It's even worse when his character starts to neglect his friends; you sense direct contempt instead of someone who has honestly forgotten momentarily what really counts in life. Lamas' performance doesn't provide the only annoyance; for example, the production (though exceedingly well photographed) is marred by constant cheapness - tacky props, flimsy sets, and constant use of close-ups to try and mask the flimsy sets. But that's small potatoes next to the soundtrack; seventeen songs performed by a number of artists, some actually well-known like Laura Branigan, and they all have one thing in common: they SUCK.

But if there's one good thing about those musical numbers, it's that they usually accompany one of the funnier aspects of the movie - the dancing. In fact, the dancing in the movie is so hilariously bad that it doesn't just merely cancel out the suckiness generated by the music, but leaves some merriment remaining that's enough to get you laughing out loud at times. There's a fellow with a mustache who seems to have gotten dance instructions from a duck, because in every dance number he's seen bouncing up and down and flapping his arms. Of course, Lamas' complete incompetence at dancing, as well as the use of obvious doubles for the more difficult moves, provides its own amusement. He's also in the showstopping dance number in the middle of the movie, a stage performance that's a cross between Tron and the video for Thriller. You may not believe you get to see a neon-colored, glow-in-the-dark Lorenzo Lamas. Well, I did mention earlier that we were seeing a more playful and charming side of him, one that will even face stiffly-moving red skeletons that aren't quite moving in unison - so long as he can face them with his green-glowing butterfly sunglasses and white-glowing lipstick. It's the stuff camp classic fans dream of. Too bad the song that plays during it is just bad, instead of hilarious bad. Like Lamas, it's a mix of the amusing and the annoying. In fact, that best describes the entire movie itself.

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See also: Daredreamer, Disk-O-Tek Holiday, Hot Summer

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