Body Beat (1987)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Girls Just Want
to Have Fun



Body Beat
aka Dance Academy

Lava Lamp

Our rating: one LAVA® motion lamps.

Gotta let it out, Teen Steam!
The '80s were a magical period in America's pop culture history. It was a time of big hair and ugly clothes. You could always tell who the good guys and bad guys were, often by their facial expressions. And any social injustice could be remedied through music and dance.

At least, that what you'd think if you watched nearly any movie made for teens at that time. Now imagine this formula being followed by Italians with movie cameras and atrocious taste (even for the '80s), with permission to film in America. That's Body Beat, known in some parts as Dance Academy.

The main character is Vince (Steve LaChance), a manual laborer who all but hijacks a rich family's car and ends up in a snobby school of dance. Once there he just can't stop his body from moving to the beat of the music being made by aspiring singer/dancer Paula (Paula Nichols). Paula's lyrics (and you will hear many of her songs during the film) are made up of clichés strung together:
Audience members also
assumed the fetal position.

ooooooooo oh baby
baby all the stars are white
love is in the air
this will be our night of nights
we've got no time to spare

baby let me light your light tonight
baby let me make you feel all right

our waiting is through
nothing else we can do
cuz our love has taken control
driving us into a world that we love to explore
oh more and more

baby let me light your light tonight
baby let me make you feel all right

"Wong Foo? Never heard of him."

The (need we say it?) stuffy director of the academy, Miss McKenzie (Julie Newmar!) is about to throw Vince out on his ear when he is unexpectedly vouched for by David Bronson (Tony Dean Fields). No one calls him Mr. Bronson, though, because:

"I'm known in the ROCK world . . . as Moon."

If you're not giggling incontrollably by this point in the film, you're probably moaning in pain.

Moon is the director of the school's new jazz dance program, which has been mandated by the school's anonymous owner. For reasons that are never adequately explained, Miss McKenzie (the school's former owner, who sold it "to make ends meet") is dead set against the jazz dance program, and she's conspiring to destroy it with her toady Percy.

"You listen here! I didn't
spend all this time on my hair
to watch you dance badly!"

Speaking of things that aren't explained, several mentions are made of the fact that Moon is just out of prison. This never really has much to do with anything, other than to prove he's a Rebel™, but we couldn't help but wonder for what he had been put in prison. Check fraud? Nah, he's more soulful that that. Maybe he was killing prostitutes and he dodged all the heavy charges on a technicality.

Following the pattern of these films, Moon falls for Paula, and Vince falls for Jana (Galyn Gorg), who, naturally enough, is Paula's roommate. Jana appears to have gotten a lot of practice at jazz dancing, at least if dancing around a pole counts. Vince gets a date with Jana through the time-honored '80s tradition of humiliating himself in various ways. Girls love that. First he falls in a fountain. Then he takes her to a fancy restaurant, where he works as a valet. During the meal. Though the date is a disaster, Jana is so taken by Vince's humiliation she decides to be his regular squeeze, at least until the movie dictates they break up.

It's like Moulin Rouge,
only different.

Meanwhile, Moon and Paula must find a way to continue their relationship despite the academy's rules against teacher/student fraternization and the constant surveillance by Percy. This might sound interesting, but it never really goes anywhere, and so results in another breakup by miscommunication. There are a few intense glances exchanged as Moon tells Paula she must work hard to perfect her songwriting (uh... isn't this a dance academy?), but we think it's fairly obvious that Moon will tell a hot chick anything she wants to hear.

Showgirls 2.

The movie was shot in the U.S., and most of the actors seem to be Americans, but Body Beat still bears some of the hallmarks of Italian filmmaking. Even for a movie of its type it is low-budget, with plenty of scenes that look like they were done in one take. The entire script is made up of clichés learned from watching other, better films. The only character who doesn't speak in hackneyed phrases is Miss McKenzie, whose dialogue is so convoluted that we began to suspect it was improvised. Julie Newmar, by the way, is a classically trained dancer and was even the prima ballerina for the Los Angeles Opera. In a typical example of the kind of thinking that defeats this movie, however, she never does anything related to dancing. One might think that the headmistress of a dance academy might don a leotard once in a while, but Newmar is a dance-free zone. The most balletic thing she does is arch her eyebrows.

Body Beat put us in mind of another '80s dance film, Girls Just Want To Have Fun (1985), in which Sarah Jessica Parker plays a teenager competing for the chance to shake her groove thing on TV. The two films are fairly similar, except that Girls provides its characters with motivation for their trite scenes, while Body Beat manufactures events and dialogue from nothing. In addition, the love story in the earlier film is between two kids of the same age, not between an ex-convict dance instructor and his underaged pupil. Girls Just Want to Have Fun was corny and obvious, but Body Beat is creepy and often inappropriate. Parallels could also be drawn between Body Beat and 1980's Fame, but we think the comparisons we have made already have dignified Beat too much.

"AARRRRGH! Puny humans!
Moon SMASH!"

After innumerous dance-offs, soulful songs, and kinetic expressions of emotion, the movie ends at the big dance recital, where justice is dispensed. As with all movies of this type, the showstopper is an intricate abstract dance number with thunder and lighting and barely-dressed male dancers who arrive just in time to sexually assault the female dancers. And though we have been treated to interminable dance practice scenes throughout the movie, we never once saw the dancers practice this routine, or in these costumes, or even on this set. Apparently they're so good that complicated choreography on a specialized set is ready for the paying audience on the first try.

The name of the recital? "Breakin' Out!" Yes, like a rash. How very fitting.

Own it!

Review date: 08/16/2002

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