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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

FREAK DANCE -- DVD review by porfle

As evidenced by the"I Was a Teenage Werebear" segment of CHILLERAMA, poking fun at the traditional Hollywood musical doesn't always turn out as funny on the screen as it does in the filmmakers' own heads.  But on the rare occasion when all the elements just seem to click right into place, it can be kind of exhilarating--as in director Matt Besser and co-writer Neil Mahoney's bright, breezy, and occasionally dazzling spoof, FREAK DANCE (2010).

Taking its cue from such cheesy 80s song-and-dance epics as BREAKIN', STAYIN' ALIVE, and FOOTLOOSE, this adaptation of the Upright Citizens Brigade's popular stage show is the familiar story of good-guy and bad-guy dance groups from rival studios, Fantaseez and Dazzle's, who will eventually settle their score in the climactic dance-off.  As Besser and Mahoney state in their commentary, the notion of good and bad dance gangs battling it out by trying to outdo their opponents with the wildest moves is just so stupid that it's inherently funny.

Michael Daniel Cassady plays Funky Bunch, leader of the Fantaseez and self-proclaimed "world's greatest dancer" since the career-ending injury of former legend Asteroid (Hal Rudnick), whose performance of the forbidden Freak Dance not only resulted in the death of his wife but the loss of his sexual organs, which a male dancer requires for "balance."  Rudnick (who reminds me of Andy Dick, which to me is a good thing) and Cassady play their roles to the melodramatic hilt, treating dance as a mystical calling of equal or greater importance than being a doctor, firefighter, or astronaut (as expressed in one of the film's many hilarious musical reveries).

Blonde babe Megan Heyn is Cocolonia, a rich girl yearning to escape her pampered life and dance with the poor people, to the horror of her prudish, dance-hating mother (Amy Poehler).  Like Lucinda Dickey's "Special K" in BREAKIN', Cocolonia is taught how to dance ghetto-style (which mainly consists of learning how to move her butt) and given her own street name, "Special Flavor."  Eventually, she'll be lured over to the dark side when the flamboyantly decadent Dazzle (Drew Droege) offers to teach her the art of the "private dance" at his studio/club--where dance is all about "sex" instead of a pure art form--and she goes in hopes of earning enough money to pay off Fantaseez' building code violations.

The other members of the Fantaseez crew include: gorgeous but ditzy latina Sassy (Angela Trimbur); Egghead (Benjamin Siemon), whose intelligence is a liability he struggles to overcome; and Barrio (Sam Riegel), haunted by the death of his brother in a drug deal, a memory he doesn't like to talk about even though it's all he ever talks about.  Also in an attempt to pay off Fantaseez' debts, Barrio will eventually venture into Weed Ghetto to engage in a drug deal just like the one that killed his brother (Horatio Sanz), which we finally get to see in a startlingly funny flashback.

The movie hits the ground running with an opening song-and-dance sequence set in a hospital where Funky and the gang come to visit Asteroid but are denied entrance because they're dancers.  This prompts them to let loose with their magic dance beams and sweep all of the hospital's staff, patients, and visitors into a gloriously unhinged orgy of breakdancing that fills the hallways with kinetic and comedic energy.  It's a delightful and stunningly choreographed scene with some of the best dance groups in the business going at it with all they've got.  For a spoof of dance movies to be this genuinely celebratory is a rare treat, and FREAK DANCE never really gets this good again.

Before we can catch our breath, one of the film's funniest non-dancing scenes features Asteroid getting the lowdown on his condition from his doctor (Ian Roberts), who informs him that dancing on the ceiling has given him a brain tumor which will eventually cause his head to implode.  "You only have ten left," he says gravely.  "Ten what?  Days?  Years?" asks Asteroid.  "We don't know," the doctor replies.  "Could be ten days.  Could be ten decades.  All we really know is that it's ten."  He illustrates Asteroid's impending head implosion with a drawing done by his six-year-old son, since an actual photo would be too graphic.  When Asteroid reacts in dismay, the doctor reminds him that if he weren't so personally involved, it would actually look really cool.

Rather than wall-to-wall hip hop or disco, most of FREAK DANCE's song interludes are the traditional Hollywood stuff performed with bright-eyed exuberance by the cast.  While old-school in form, the situations can be pretty wild, as when Funky and Cocolonia boogie through a romantic number set in a slaughterhouse where she has secured a new job stripping pig carcasses.  Director Besser's turn as the gestapo-like Building Inspector General leads to a hilarious musical segment in which he lists everything wrong with the Fantaseez studio, including the fact that "the bathroom is too dark to pee." 

While the inspiration wanes at times and some numbers strain a little too hard for laughs, they're usually rescued by some clever bits of business or spoofy lyrics.  Everything comes to a head at the big dance-off as Funky and Cocolonia find it necessary to perform the dreaded Freak Dance in order to beat Dazzle and his vile minions.  Funky doesn't know the steps so she offers to lead--"that way it won't look as rapey!" she gushes--and the film ends with enough showmanship to send it off in fine style, along with a twisted plot twist or two.  There's even a nod to THE WARRIORS with a sleazy D.J. giving a play-by-play of the action as costumed dance gangs such as The Lumber-Blacks, The Rabbis, and the Softball Furies gather to take part.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound.  Closed-captioned but no subtitles.  Extras include a commentary with Matt Besser and Neil Mahoney, deleted and extended scenes, a trailer, and a seven-minute collection of funny cautionary messages on "The Dangers of Freak Dancing."

With its headbands, leg warmers, and real dancers subbing for the leads FLASHDANCE-style, FREAK DANCE is the quintessential 80s cheesefest brought hilariously up to date.  I'm guessing it won't be for everybody, but those who get into the goofball spirit of the thing should have a great time.

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