Eric D. Snider

Roll Bounce

Here is a formula for making a good movie about roller skating: Include lots of roller-skating scenes; avoid maudlin or sentimental sub-plots; wrap it up in 90 minutes. This formula is so basic that I am surprised the people who made "Roll Bounce" did not know it. Surely it is in the Filmmaking 101 textbook, in the appendix labeled "Genres, Formulas for."

But here we are. Sigh. "Roll Bounce," a kid-oriented comedy set in the summer of 1978 on the South Side of Chicago, is too long and too sappy, not to mention too vulgar for the kids it's oriented toward. It comes to life only when the characters are roller skating. Those too-few scenes, set to era-appropriate music, bubble with the joy and exuberance of carefree youth, and feature some pretty cool skating moves besides. Again, I'm baffled that I should even have to point out the necessity of including more skating scenes in your movie about skating, but again, here we are.

The star is Bow Wow, formerly Lil Bow Wow, now an actor and not a bad one at that. He plays Xavier, a 14-ish boy who spends his summer days skating with his friends at the old Palisade Garden Roller Rink. The Palisade is closing, though, forcing the boys uptown to a more prosperous-looking disco-skating rink, where the kids wear nicer skates and make fun of the poor kids from the South Side. (Not for the reasons you might expect, though: Race, cheerfully, is not an issue in the film.)

X and his pals -- trash-talking Junior (Brandon T. Jackson), Puerto Rican Naps (Rick Gonzalez), mixed-race Mike (Khleo Thomas), non-descript Boo (Marcus T. Paulk) and tomboy Tori (Jurnee Smollett) -- are aware that at the new place, they are in the presence of royalty: Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan), a skater so good he has his own entourage and theme music. He and his team have won the rink's Skate-Off every year, but X and the gang want to give him a run for his money and win the $500 prize. Can this rag-tag team of underdogs rise against the odds pull off such a feat??????????????????????

I'm sorry, those question marks were employed so abundantly as a form of mockery, and I should not mock a movie for adhering to a formula, especially not when I have already criticized it for not adhering closely enough to one. Is there no pleasing me???????????????

Anyway, there's a good deal of nonsensical humor among the kids, exchanging "witty" put-downs that make each other laugh even though I doubt they will make the kids in the audience laugh. There is also a tendency for the film's few adults to talk exactly like the kids, the same childish squabbling, the same immature reasoning. The screenwriter, Norman Vance Jr. ("Beauty Shop"), evidently does not have a lot of "voices" in his repertoire.

But there are also many pleasant scenes of summertime in the city, with water balloons, paper routes, video games and "What's Happening!!!" on TV. You can smile fondly at these scenes whether the details of your own childhood matched them or not. The spirit of the scenes, directed by Malcolm D. Lee ("The Best Man," "Undercover Brother"), matches everyone's childhood.

But then X's mom died not long ago, and there are many, many scenes about that, with X's dad (Chi McBride) starting to date again, and his little sister missing Mama. I submit that one or two scenes would have been sufficient, and would have spared us the syrupy "Full House" moments that occur every 15 minutes or so.

And so the film staggers inevitably toward the Skate-Off, with the boys practicing, horsing around, and looking at fine girls and saying "Oh, day-amm!" at how fine they are. At the last minute they are required to set their routine to a song other than the one they'd practiced with, but do you suppose their choreography suffers at all? Or do you suppose they improvise choreography that is SO GOOD it's as if they'd planned to use that song all along?

?????????????????

Grade: C

Rated PG-13, a fair amount of vulgarity, some innuendo, a little profanity

1 hr., 52 min.

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