From the director of “Undercover Brother” and the writer of “Beauty Shop” comes a coming-of-age tale set during the late 70s roller-rink craze. From a direction standpoint, Malcolm D. Lee (cousin of Spike Lee) does a great job of capturing the fluidity of movement in the rink as well as the flashiness of the cheesy garbs people often wore in public in those days. But what kind of story can be told here? Writer Norman Vance answers that question not with an interesting or striking story, but instead with a formulaic screenplay of epic proportions.
Bow Wow (yes, he took away the “l’il” but left the rest) plays X, a poor kid from the ghetto that loves nothing other than showing off his skate skills at the local Palisades roller-rink. Together with a group of his friends, they take down everyone that tries to show them up on the wooden ring, until the day the Palisades closes. They then decide to travel uptown to a fancier rink where a metro-sexual/multicultural gang shows them up. Frustrated and depressed, the inner city kids head back to the ghetto to work on their skills so they can return to challenge this new group to a Skate-Off, where the winner is awarded $500 and the losers go home in shame.
It utterly pains me to watch a film like this or “Saturday Night Fever” just because it’s so amazing to see people so obsessed with these truly stupid movements. Roller-skating on a wooden circle for hours and hours while being a teenager just doesn’t compute in my head as a good time. And I don’t care what decade it was; dancing in hot polyester clothes to god-awful music doesn’t sound like a good time either. And did disco or roller-skating really change anyone’s life? The only thing I could see disco ever doing was just pissing people off more so than they already were. With that said, “Saturday Night Fever” was a great film because it wasn’t just about the dance or the music. John Travolta’s character went through a massive change and the audience went along with it. The characters in “Roll Bounce” just aren’t that compelling and the predicaments they are thrown in are too mechanical for us to relate to or even care.
Chi McBride does a fantastic job (especially considering the material) playing Bow Wow’s father. In fact, he is too good for this movie. He has been in a ton of supporting roles in both good films (Narc and “The Frighteners”) and bad (Gone in 60 Seconds and Cradle 2 The Grave), so he has more than proved his presence – someone out there needs to give him that starring role he more than deserves. It says a lot for an actor when he/she can carry a mediocre movie all by himself, from a supporting side.
A movie starring Bow Wow is for one group of cinemagoers and one group alone. That group, teens of course, will no doubt explode with laughter while Bow Wow’s gang insult each other for more than half the movie. Parents along for the ride may chuckle here and there but no doubt, they’ll definitely get bored during all of the heart-tugging scenes this genre has been replicating for decades. Nothing about this film is as cathartic as it tries to make itself be because the characters just aren’t that absorbing. Instead of tugging your heart, it just spits in your eye.