There are several superbly funny bits in “Roller Town.” Members of the exceedingly Canadian sketch comedy group, known as Picnicface, are responsible for this surreal genre satire about a roller disco in jeopardy. Since I’m not familiar with the troupe, I have no idea how “Picnicface” this film is. I can tell you, however, that it is more than just a send-up of 70s roller disco movies. Though the writers do tend to get a little caught up in the novelty of it all, their shrewd comedic influences shine through. Fans of “Airplane!”, Stella and The Kids in the Hall will experience a hearty chuckle. But unlike the work of their influences, there isn’t a whole lot in “Roller Town” to revisit. By the end of the film, you’re reminded why it is that roller disco is dead.
One of the film’s writers, Mark Little, also plays Leo, an implausibly dashing Luke Wilson/Zach Braff hybrid with all the real world charm of Napoleon Dynamite. His love interest is Julia (Kayla Lorette), the naïve but rebellious daughter of the town’s mayor. Julia is so spellbound by Leo’s short short/striped sock ensemble that she is willing to do anything to help him save the rec cent…er, the roller disco… from a trio of particularly persuasive “investors” who want to turn the place into a video game arcade. Leo’s mission is made all the more imperative when he learns that these are the same men who murdered his father in cold blood years ago.
Little is fully committed to his character and, as a result, sells some jokes that might have fallen flat in the hands of a more self-aware actor. On the other hand, Leo is such a tool that it seems completely ludicrous, even in this fantastical context, that Julia would follow him around like a little lost puppy while he barely registers her existence. Nonetheless, it makes for a couple of successful physical gags in which Leo attempts to groom and mold Julia into a girlfriend he can stand to look at.
Some of the best moments in “Roller Town” belong to Leo’s other adversaries, a sweater-draped gang of preppies. The leader of the gang, who is also vying for Julia’s affections, is the best overconfident, obtuse bully since Biff Tannen. (Sample dig at Leo’s orphan status: “How does it feel to outlive your parents?”). He also elicits some terrific and increasingly intricate retorts from Leo, including my personal favorite, “I think I’ll make like a tree and stay exactly where I am for hundreds of years.”
A couple of recurring bits feel clever and original at inception but lose steam with every subsequent appearance. Songs from fictional disco trio, the Boogaloos, serve as scene bumpers and are as amusing as any SNL Digital Short (meaning they rely pretty heavily on dick jokes). A riff on Canadian currency and other national in-jokes may be lost on uninitiated Americans. I barely know all the names of the Royal Family let alone other notables who might grace their money. Is the Loonie a member of Parliament?
The film loses its way entirely in the third act, as both Leo and the writers behind him appear to completely improvise the haphazard and expedited conclusion. Regardless, these Picnicface people show a lot of promise in the comedy film arena. I hope that with their next outing, they focus on tightening the story more than they do Mark Little’s hot pants.