It was just over 10 years ago that Spike Lee made Crooklyn, a semi-autobiographical portrait of an African-American family and its dilemmas during the hedonism of the 1970s. Eleven years later, cousin Malcolm Lee — the brilliant auteur behind Undercover Brother — tries to do the same thing with Roll Bounce, only instead of evoking pathos and sharp comedy, he decides to pander to ’70s kitsch fetishists and — I’m not even kidding here — roller-skating fans.
I’d be less incredulous if there was any inherent point to having the movie revolve around disco-funk and roller rinks, but Lee seems to think that nostalgia and cliched brummagem are reason enough: “Look! Afros! Ha ha ha! Look! Tight pants! You’re killin’ me!” OK, OK, we all know that the ’70s were probably the worst era of fashion in the history of human civilization, but is that all you’ve got?
All vitriol aside, this is essentially the story of X — a spry young skater from the south side of Chicago. X and his impertinent cadre of friends spend most of their summer days skating in the local roller rink to gaudy disco-pop, until, that is, the rink closes down and they’re forced to commute to the upper-class north side rink — Sweetwater. I doubt I have to tell you what happens next: the troupe struggles to fit in, struggles to impress the ladies, and struggles to compete with the in-crowd: a group of “champion” skaters who are out to prove themselves more proficient and androgynous than our plucky young heroes.
Well, whatever, but that doesn’t seem like the most ideal springboard for a coming-of-age story. I mean, how many times has this crap been done before: superimposing an unlikely competitive scenario into film? We’ve seen cheerleaders try to out-gyrate, band dorks try to out-drum, and motocross idiots try to out-immolate one another. Frankly, at some point long ago this shit ceased having a modicum of drama and just looked asinine. Where will it end: Baton-TwiRlerZ II: Bitch Got Game? I could cry.
I suppose Lee isn’t wholly to blame; he actually does a better job than I would have predicted balancing out the intrinsic silliness of the story without it getting too serious. When we do come to the more somber elements, screenwriter Norman Vance Jr. employs the oldest card in the book (a dead mother) to make sure we know this isn’t just a skating movie and then relays it as hammily as possible. In point of fact, the only thing that saves Roll Bounce from falling directly on its arse is surprisingly competent acting. Shad Moss (Or Bow Wow, if you must) is still young, but he’s got enough personality and convincing delivery to pull off the lead role. Similarly, Chi McBride, who plays X’s beleaguered father, does the job believably. The mostly unknown extras also pull their weight, and this coupled with hilarious cameos by Charlie Murphy and Mike Epps actually make the damn thing watchable, if nothing else.
Roll Bounce probably isn’t as bad as I make it out to be, but it’s maddening that Malcolm Lee had nothing more to do than look to his own blasted family to see an example of a movie done well, and instead the best he can do is channel You Got Served?! But these hurdles may simply be critical ones, and one thing I’ve learned about criticism is that 90 percent of audiences either don’t notice, or don’t mind. But come on, folks. Roller-skating?! Surely we can do better than that. …
Phillip Stephens is a movie critic for Pajiba.
Film Reviews | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()