Krush Groove (1985) / Comedy-Musical
MPAA Rated: R for language and mild sexuality (I'd rate it PG with some language)
Running Time: 97 min.
Cast: Joseph Simmons (Run), Blair Underwood, Sheila E., Mark Morales (Prince Markie D), Darryl McDaniels (DMC), Kurtis Blow, Damon Wimbley (Kool Rock Ski), Darren "Buffy" Robinson (The Human Beat Box), Rick Rubin, Jason Mizell (Jam Master Jay), New Edition, Russell Simmons, Sal Abbatielo, Beastie Boys, Donnie Simpson, Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, Galaxy, Full Force, LL Cool J, Mr. Magic
Director: Michael Schultz
Screenplay: Ralph Farquhar
Review published February 21, 2007
Krush Groove resides firmly on my list of guilty pleasures -- a film that generates unintentional laughs from its worst moments, but which only makes me love it all the more for it, to the point where I actually think it’s a fun and interesting flick. A big part of why I like it comes from the fantastic old school hip hop, featuring early glimpses at rap’s second generation, including Run-DMC, Kurtis Blow, The Fat Boys, LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, among others. Back then, these acts were almost never played on MTV, or most radio stations, leaving it up to our imaginations as to just what it was like in the middle of the rap scene. Not only could we now see all of our favorite performers, we could also enjoy them act (well, trying to act), and perform in a mainstream format.
Krush Groove is loosely based on the story of how Russell Simmons (called Russell Walker here, and played by Blair Underwood ("LA Law", Rules of Engagement), in his big screen debut) and Rick Rubin created the breakthrough hip hop label, Def Jam (called Krush Groove in the movie), and the kinds of problems they had starting from nothing, and the dealings with some unsavory characters in order to get the cash to keep these acts together. Back then, artists flocked to get recording contracts, which were mostly obtained by appearing in talent shows or competitions, and the winner is signed to a record label. Amid the dog-eat-dog world of urban music, Krush Groove also features a love triangle between Russell and Run (of Run-DMC) for the affection of funk talent, Sheila E.
There isn’t a second that goes by in Krush Groove where I’m not thoroughly entertained by its juvenile, wide-eyed charm, and I’ll admit, there is a huge nostalgic factor that comes into play hearing such songs as “King of Rock” (Run-DMC), “A Love Bizarre” (Sheila E., featuring Prince), “I Can’t Live without My Radio” (LL Cool J), “If I Ruled the World” (Kurtis Blow), “Tender Love” (Force MDs, an early track produced by mega-producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis) and many other lesser known, but cult hip hop hits. There are very few examples of seeing what it would be like to witness these acts perform live on stage, and although they are obviously lip-synching here, it’s as close as we’re likely to get without an 8th generation dub of an underground bootleg. Fresh, vibrant, and among the best of the genre, this is a terrific pool of talent that paved the way for all of the artists of today, especially the all-time greats to ever hold a mic, Run-DMC.
There is a curiosity factor to many of the decisions employed by the makers of the film, which may be known, but I’ve yet to hear satisfactory answers. For instance, nearly everyone plays himself or herself in the film, except for Russell, who is being portrayed by Underwood. Perhaps the part needed a better actor? Also a large curiosity -- while every single one of the rap acts in the film are born and bred in New York City, in the middle of all of this distinctly Bronx-Queens hip hop is Sheila E., Oakland-native, with the trademark sounds of Minneapolis funk, of course, produced by Prince. There’s no way a band with this dynamic sound or ability could be struggling to gain acceptance in the ghettos of NYC, nor would it be able to without the necessary street cred. Perhaps Sheila, being a Warner Bros. artist, and this being a Warner Bros. film, tells the true tale. Prince's music was red-hot at the time.
Despite the good music, entertaining dialogue, and colorful situations, Krush Groove will never be considered a good movie. The acting is very spotty. I suppose one should cut a little slack to these actors, since almost none of them have ever performed in roles before, and seeing Run, Sheila, and Markie D. show some decent chops actually did make a good impression. It doesn’t help that the script has a silliness that doesn’t allow them to get away with much seriousness, especially when the strictly comedic Fat Boys take up a great deal of the film’s screen time.
Krush Groove is a film so dated, and so quintessentially 80s, I can’t imagine recommending it to anyone who isn’t a fan of old-school hip hop, except perhaps someone who just wants to laugh at its cheesiness. For those, like me, who love all of these songs, acts, and the era it was made in, we just learn to overlook its substantial flaws, letting the music and nostalgia infuse us with a feeling of the fun and good-nature with which this movie is intended. Yes, you can have good times with a bad movie, and there’s no better example than Krush Groove.
©2005 Vince Leo