Will Martin’s Roughrider has easily one of the better opening misdirects I’ve seen in a while. I like to go into films as cold as possible, meaning I like to let the film inform me on what the story is as opposed to knowing it ahead of time. In this case, the film opens with a teenager skateboarding along. Now, this could then go any number of ways, but the one I didn’t guess was that the skateboarding teenager would suddenly get in a gunfight with a guy on a dirt bike, culminating in a huge explosive demise of our dirt bike-riding assailant.
Which sets the tone perfectly, as what follows is a vigilante revenge action film, with all the usual fixings and situations of the genre, only starring skateboarding teenagers. Essentially, take a B-movie style ’80s action flick, drop the age of the heroes, and you’ve got something approaching Roughrider. I think you could look at this film as a not-so-good film in one way, but as a pretty solid genre flick in another way. Depends on how open you are.
But I’m ahead of myself. The titular roughrider of the film is Jack Urban (writer/director Will Martin), the straight-edge, skateboarding teenager with a violent vendetta against the local drug cartel headed by King (Kelvin Girdy). See, King killed Jack’s sister, and Jack is doing all he can to disrupt King’s gang dealings in an attempt to get to the big man himself. Aiding Jack in his revenge are his friends Alek (Seth Barton), who supplies the weapons, and Blind (Gabe Shebesta), who supplies the comic relief, and new cohort Dorothy (Victoria L. Rodriguez), who has inside info on King and her own reasons for wanting to see him fail. Opposing Jack and his crew are King and his gang, along with a rotten Homeland Security Agent (Tony Bottorff).
And that’s pretty much how things setup. Sure, King has a plot and Jack is there to thwart it, but that’s just the loose foundation that allows for all the action sequences and clichés. Again, if you look at this like you’ve found a lost action flick from the ’80s, you’ll probably dig it a whole lot more.
For me, the genre-knowledgeable touches and affectations are what made this so much fun. Will Martin’s Jack is all gruff voice and steely glare, dropping one-liners when he’s not dropping bad guys. Kelvin Girdy’s King is exactly what you would expect in a film like this, playing as over-the-top and willing to share his plans (instead of just killing his enemy) as any action villain out there.
And King’s gang? Textbook awful evil minions. Nevermind that half the time they outnumber our hero, are equipped with tons of weapons and drive dirt bikes or cars while Jack moves along on a skateboard; they can’t aim for s**t and are constantly victimized. This film would be a whole lot shorter if, when they had the drop on Jack, they just shot him instead of talking to him. But that wouldn’t be authentic to this type of flick.
Aside from the action genre fun (and for a seemingly low budget flick, the action sequences, and visual effects, are extremely well-done), the film does have a few flaws. The biggest one is that the camera can sometimes be too active, making certain dialogue sequences hard to watch. Maybe that’s part of the “joke,” but when the camera is moving one way, then cutting to a different move, then crossing-the-line, then cutting back in a different direction, it can get overwhelming. The editorial flow and camera movement is not always this problematic, but when it is it gets overwhelming fast.
You could also probably rip this film to pieces in any number of other technical ways, including poking the hell out of the plot wherever you find a hole, but I think the tone and spirit of the film suggests that it isn’t really the type of film that would benefit from fixing those flaws. Again, if you see this as an homage to ’80s action flicks, it’s almost too on the nose.
I thought Roughrider was a blast. It’s not really a good movie outside of the genre context, but it is a pretty good representation of the type of action flicks that used to get churned out all the time, and as such inspires feelings of fun and nostalgia. It’s weird to place it, honestly. On the one hand, it seems to take itself seriously so there’s no wink-wink satire going on here. At the same time, it is so flawed, but in such an action faithful way, that you can’t help but feel like there’s something more to it. Take it as you like, but again, for me, it was an extremely entertaining film.
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