Can you believe two films about the lambada were released the same day? While Cannon’s Yoram Globus was putting out LAMBADA by BREAKIN’ director Joel Silberg on March 16, 1990, his cousin and former partner, Menahem Golan, was rolling out THE FORBIDDEN DANCE for his new company 21st Century.
By the time both films came out, nobody in the U.S. gave a damn about the shortlived dance fad anyway, and they both vanished almost as quickly as the lambada did. If anything about them is noteworthy, it’s their female leads: LAMBADA’s Melora Hardin, who went on to prime-time prominence in THE OFFICE, and this film’s Laura Harring, more than a decade before she got a boob job and landed her breakthrough leading role in David Lynch’s MULHOLLAND DRIVE.
An Amazon princess named Nisa (Harring) and her hulking witchdoctor companion Joa (Sid Haig!) go to Los Angeles to prevent an evil oil company from bulldozing their native village in the Amazon. Joa gets tossed in the joint, and Nisa gets a job as a maid for wealthy racists. That gig doesn’t work out when the parents find out she went dancing with their layabout dance-obsessed son Jason (Jeff James), so she wanders over to cinema’s most ridiculous strip club/brothel. Billed as “Queen of the Amazon,” Nisa dances for about three people in this rinkydink joint until she gets into a hassle with Jason’s pals in paisley vests.
What it all boils down to is Jason and Nisa competing in a Kid Creole and the Coconuts dance contest so they can win first prize: an appearance on national television so they can preach a Save the Rain Forest message and, presumably, save Nisa’s village from getting torched by oil company mercenary Maxwell (Richard Lynch).
But THE FORBIDDEN DANCE is crazier than it sounds. Sid Haig playing air bongos. A bizarre safe-sex message. The pitiful acting and sets. Brazil portrayed like a 1950s Jungle Jim programmer. Gratuitous slo-mo window breaking. Jason’s hilarious fascination with dancing all night. And, Lord, Richard Lynch dancing the lambada.
Yes, it’s a terrible film, but perfectly watchable in the way only some dreadful films can be. Laura Harring is more than watchable—gorgeous and energetic even, though not exactly an acting powerhouse. She fares better than her blow-dried leading man, who’s unconvincing as a dancer and a lover. He appears as though THE FORBIDDEN DANCE was James’ only film—not a shocker. Also with Linden Chiles, Shannon Farnon, Angela Moya, Barbra Brighton, and the hit Kaoma song “Lambada,” which LAMBADA didn’t get the rights to.