Oh, Tae Bo. Being academically obligated to take part in forcefully enthusiastic, hip thrusting, air punching schlock in 11th grade gym was nothing short of unenjoyable. As a class we stood in rows of four, following routines that played before us on a crappy television provided by the library. My friend, Danielle, and I stood in the back row too cool to participate in the Tae Bo activities, only actively engaged when monitored by our strange gym teacher (better known as Barry Manilow’s doppelganger). Rarely did he monitor us though. His too-tight nylon sweatpants contracted around his glutes as he obeyed the on-screen commands of Billy Blanks, unaware that his class behind him were either fiddling with their cell phones, sneaking out the back door, or slouched against the walls in misery. Of course there were several overachievers next to him, participating almost as hardcore as he was. After this experience, I promised myself I’d never watch another Billy Blanks exercise tape. Oh well, some promises were made to be broken.
Most famous for his Tae Bo workout tapes, body builder Billy Blanks presents you, “Billy’s Ab Bootcamp.” This turkey was M.I.A. from my residence hall’s movie rental inventory for a few months and once it magically reappeared, I had to check out what was so great about it that made it worth holding onto for that long. Well, this DVD will do as promised. It will give you abs…from holding in laughter. In this case, heed some of Billy’s advice and “Blow the air out of your abs.” Or as I like to pretend to hear, “ass.”
Although filmed in 2005, the hue of the stock footage, poor lighting, and grainy resolution makes you believe it was product of the early 90’s. An initial observation to make is on the ultra-cheesy backdrop. Its appearance seems to be an imitation of the American flag, but without the blue square and fifty stars. I was slightly confused; are there copyright laws on the American flag that prevented them from using the actual design? Next to be noticed is a spooky portrait of Billy hanging on the left side of the studio; he is squatting in pose while a spotlight illuminates his silhouette. Next is the music. The beat (or lack thereof) resembles one from a (usually out of order) crappy arcade game that is commonly found standing solo in a strip mall.
The participants’ exercise attire incorporates army camouflage in some form or another: patterned sweat pants, patterned shoelaces, patterned bras, etc. I assume this was an executive decision made by the producer as a way of supporting the theme of “boot camp.” It comes across as just that…campy. Not in a badass way, but in a way that borders on parody. Don’t become too concentrated on the elements I just mentioned though; Billy will startle you as he jumps in front of the camera shouting his introduction. As the troupe counts in unison behind him, Billy welcomes you to boot camp and offers scripted words of encouragement to kick off the hoorah.
My eyes constantly fell upon a fit woman in the front row, whom Billy referred to as “Shelly.” As the others around her look uncomfortable with agony, Shelly purses her lips seductively to demonstrate muscle strain. During the hip thrusting exercise, she is kind enough to throw in several sex faces with lip biting for further impact.
The women’s emotions range from uncomfortable to inconvenienced, shifting into the realm of being desperately cheerful. I am also bothered there was not someone- cameraman, producer, costume designer, lunch caterer, Billy himself- that suggested that a little too much camel toe was visible on stage. In the back row, there are several uncoordinated women that frequently examine their surroundings, wide-eyed in wonder. Their formation is poor despite being selected for the small cast of an exercise video. They make me believe they were picked off the street and asked to volunteer moments before shooting began. The rest of the women let out an impromptu “yeah” or “let’s go team” every once in a while. To top off the conclusion of each routine, they clap merrily while wailing, “Woo!”
As far as male participants, there is only one in this crowd of women. Not much can be said about him except his attempts to look tough by blue-steeling throughout the video. His facial expressions transition back and forth: In pain, blue steel, in pain, blue steel.
Meanwhile, Billy stands front and center yelling for you to “bring it back,” “hold on eight,” and “take it down.” He awkwardly walks closer and closer to the camera, ogling at it like a caveman discovering fire. After long drawn out pauses and stares, he bounces back and tells you to keep up your momentum and commends you on your formation. At one point Billy seems confused. He says, “I want everybody to count. Was the good English? (looks to someone off stage, pauses, nods) Yeah, that was good English.” I can’t even make a joke for that, it is funny on its own.
For the most part, Billy’s Ab Bootcamp is crap. The participants are uninspiring as they are frequently off beat, stop to fix their hair dos mid routine, fall over, stare open-mouthed into the camera, and grit their teeth to look hard. Billy seems to be oblivious to this because all he seems to do is gallivant around slapping asses and grabbing body parts as a way of extending formation. Bless his soul. He doesn’t let anything get in the way of lending supportive words or demanding you to blow the air out of your