RIORI Vol 3, Installment 64: Malcolm D Lee’s “Roll Bounce” (2005)


The Players…

Shad “Bow Wow” Moss, Chi McBride, Meagan Good, Kellita Smith, Wesley Johnathan and Nick Cannon, with Khleo Thomas, Rick Gonzalez, Marcus T Paulk, Brandon T Jackson and Jurnee Smollott.

The Story…

X and his buddies dominate their local roller rink with their groovy moves and sweet speed. But when the crew’s home base goes out of business, they have to look for another hangout. What else are they gonna do with the rest of their summer? Jump rope?

Well, there’s that Sweetwater Rink on the other side of town. If they wanna roll, that’s the place to be. And they soon discover a whole new, upscale joint that is the stuff of skaters’ dreams, complete with a high end snack bar, video games, some randy guy renting skates and this master skater dude with his crew who need to be take taken down a peg.

Aww skate skate skate!

 The Rant…

I remember the local roller rink from my youth.

The place looked like a low slung hangar. It screamed mid-70s, and smelled like it, too. Burnt orange carpets surrounding the skate rental. A snack bar that more resembled the slop line at a prison rather than a shiny shiny promising hot pizza. On the perimeter there were tables for birthday parties that smelled like feet and a small video game arcade (I f*cking rocked TimePilot) that also smelled like feet. All of it surrounded by gliding and stuttering pre-pubers and churning teens alike on smooth, gleaming, lacquered maple, slick and slippery for maximum skating speed that I never achieved, clumsy dolt kid I was.

Good times, good times.

Let me reel it back. The first time I roller skated was when I was seven. It was for a b’day party, and on the rink I had the the tendency to cling to the wall like it was the last life preserver on the Titanic. I had all the grace of an asthmatic giraffe, and toppled over like one, too. A lot. I found it terribly unfair. I couldn’t skate. I was bloody seven. I barely had the bike’s training wheels peeled away. I remember equal parts embarrassed and upset with the birthday boy, him a skating whiz and then I a total spazz caroming off the cinder block walls to the latest Michael Jackson single (“Beat It”). I tried to have fun, then TimePilot beckoned. That and the ice cream cake. Those were nice. My skating experience not so much.

Still despite my klutziness I was amazed by all the other skaters, rolling free, making it look easy, sporting cool moves in the middle of the rink as if possessed by Nureyev’s ghost. I wish knew how to hold my balance, because seasoned skaters made it look so fun, so cool, so f*cking effortless. Remember I was suffering from two-wheel envy; eight wheels was akin to deification. Or a source of envy. Pick your poison.

Back when I was seven and stumbling along the rink’s wall I fast learned what freedom was. To move like water. To slide fast. To spin a triple Lutz when I only know such a thing to be a quality potato chip. I was a clumsy arse. I wanted to be so slick. But I was seven. The smack-downs I was often privilege to by the resident elementary school long riders uncovered the mystery as to what happens to a face when it meets the piss puck in your average urinal. It smells like Mountain Dew Code Red, by the way. Being slick was not part of the equation.

My humiliation and frustration on the rink was a keen metaphor for breaking away from the crowd and my humdrum, sometimes pucky existence. Wanna pick up speed? Run, skate, do something. Just don’t sit there. It’s a positive and useful message, but I sucked at skating (did I mention that?) and was unable to reach escape velocity.

A little too deep, like some well-maintained cess pool? Maybe, I dunno. But even since my troubled adventure out on the rink I cringe every time I hear “Beat It.” That’s how sweet I thought roller skating was. Is.

Speaking of sweet…

Set the wayback machine to 1978. Disco. Funk music. Knee high tube socks. Roller skating. Especially roller skating.

Roller skating. The pinnacle of fun and coolness for Xavier “X” Smith (Bow Wow) and his buddies,  motormouthed Junior (Jackson), nerdy Boo (Paulk), hapless Naps (Gonzalez), and Mr Laid-Back Mike (Thomas). Together they are the kings of the Palisades Garden roller rink. And school’s out. It’s summer! What to do, what to do?

Duh, what else. Lace up and go roll and bounce.

Well it’s a short-lived summer. The Garden closed down, and X and his crew has no local joint to roll and bounce. What to do for real?

Junior knows about the new rink on the other side of town, the appealing sounding Sweetwater Rink. It might be a drag to bus it on out to the North Side, but a skater’s gotta do what a skater’s gotta do. So X and his pals—along with the new girl in town, the skating impaired Tori (Smollett)—make their way to Sweetwater. And what a revelation it is.

The joint is swank. Top of the line. High tech sound system. Neon everywhere. Huge rink. X and co feel like small fish in a big pond. No matter. Skating is skating. And no-one is getting in the way of these kids from the wrong side of town having a proper summer.

Well, except maybe the resident ace skater Sweetness (Johnathan) and his buddies. What’s up with these scruffy kids from the South Side? Oh, you think you can skate, do you? Well we got this here Roller Jam Skate-Off coming up. Wanna prove you’re smooth? See you then, suckers.

What a bully. X and his friends aren’t gonna take this challenge lying down. Sweetwater is now just as much their rink as it is Sweetness’. The “Garden Boys” will give him what for.

Just as soon as Naps gets some right sized skates…

Roll Bounce is nostalgia for people who weren’t there. That’s fun.

This movie is kinda like a diet cola, jive Dazed And Confused. Another period piece about high schoolers in the 70’s. Summertime and a quest for truth and fun. No weed or beer in Bounce, but we do have a splendid soundtrack. Donna Summer rocks. So does Bill Withers.

All right, enough gushing. But Bounce does have a lightweight resemblance to Dazed, and Bounce is just as fun. Less heavy navel gazing. And plenty of scenes of sweet humor. Not out of being sappy, mind you. Just a simple breath of fresh air that seems to be lacking in these days’ “coming of age” movies. It doesn’t always have to be terse with an arch message. It can be fluffy and still retain it’s “struggling teens” motif. I’m saying Bounce claims it doesn’t have to be about angst and fear of aging. Sometimes it can be about buddies, girl trouble and trying to have that perfect summer. That being said is where the Dazed comparison ends, maybe barring the eclectic cast.

And the cast is stellar. I know it may sound funny to praise Snoop Dogg’s barely adolescent protege as the ideal representation of everyyouth, but young Bow Wow (who has the best rubbery expressions) truly carries this movie, ably complemented by the smart cast. This is an ensemble piece, and the crazy quilt of the supporting cast buoys Bow Wow’s earnest performance. Okay, and Smollett plays Watson to Bow Wow’s Holmes quite well, too. More on that later. Sit down.

What I liked a lot about the cast is that they often perilously teetered on stereotypes/one note characters that afflict a lot of “coming of age” movies. And I hate that phrase. It sounds all treacly and Hallmark card, and for real, much coming can happen in a single film (not that kind of film, you silly goose), right? From what I’ve seen in COA movies is that the teens come out a little wiser, and maybe the hero gets the girl. Just keep it simple, direct and honest: it’s a f*cking teen film, all right? And thank you. We need fewer experiments in semantics, these days especially. Did you catch inauguration night?

Ahem. Sorry. Tangent. Happens here a lot. Moving on.

Yeah so our cast of characters (and indeed they are) may be old hat (e.g.: the wiseass, the dork, etc), but they funny old hat. It’s amazing what scenarists and casting directors can do with the right actors. That being said, another cool thing with our cast is that they’re really funny. For real, and disarming, too. Almost all the lines come across as improv (and perhaps they were), comfy as these kids’ performances were. It makes a predictable movie interesting. Or at least hold your attention.

I want to get on to the tech stuff for a bit. Of course I do, but fear not I got more to dish about the cast later on.

As I way saying, Bounce is a period piece. Now I’ll admit I could barely walk (let alone skate) when the movie’s story plays out. But that’s kind of the fun of period movies: like I said above, it’s nostalgia for most folks who we’re even there. That and everything is a megadose of the pop culture. If you passively did your homework—absorbed stuff over the years—you can grok to any period flick without ever being there. That is, of course, you let yourself go along with the ride.

Bounce did this effortlessly (not unlike my birthday host did on his skates), and a great deal of this smoothness is thanks to another curious aspect about period pieces: there’s that flood of pop culture touchstones, subtle as neon. Not so with Bounce. Apart from the fashions, hairstyles and tech, this could’ve happened in the backyard of your youth, regardless of the decade.

I feel that most period films—I’m not talking The Age Of Innocence here—like American Graffiti, Forrest Gump and Boogie Nights are broad enough to please people who had “been there, done that.” I don’t mean that in a cynical sense (probably a first here for me). I’m talking about a familiarity in a sort of universal sense, without any homework. Hey, you hadn’t have to been on a shrimp boat to understand Forrest’s motives. I ain’t about the shrimpin’ bidness; it’a about honoring his lost friend’s wishes. We’ve probably all been there and done that at one point in our wasted lives.

Other such films—Fiddler On The Roof, The Sting and American Hustle for example—kinda play out like paging through Thoreau’s Walden, which to me is the ultimate example of “you had to be there” to appreciate it. Now some may scream, “Hey blogger, where’s yer pants?” And after that: “Those other film were comedies (or at least comedic), and who doesn’t like a good laugh? Laughter is infectious. So’s this abbess on my foot, but I don’t feel the need to share that. Sort of.”

True. But the second trio of flicks had comedic elements also. And I’m willing to bet a silk pyjama that no matter how sweet those titles were, it might’ve required some belated stops at Wikipedia to better “get it.” And let’s face it, Hassidic wedding traditions, bunco and the porn industry might, might not be accessible to all. Ever if they’d “been there.”

Whew. That being said and getting back to the rink, the comic elements of Bounce (of which there are many) are universal, and therein lies the appeal even if you can’t skate (neon sign over the blogger’s head. No, I won’t let that go). There’s a bittersweet innocence here, especially when we learn about X’s personal tragedy. Face it folks, and sorry to be so abrupt but as soon as you accept the truth the better we’ll all be for it. Meaning no matter how sunny the plot seems, there’s gotta be some conflict to drive the plot along.

Despite Bounce being a bright movie (and I don’t mean smart), there are a few nuggets here and there that pull us away from the day-glo colors. There is an undercurrent of blue belying the alpha plot. Thanks to the smart pacing (a rarity I’ve found with most “teen films.” I mean, as fun as Ferris Beuller’s Day Off was, it was a staggering on and off when you think about it (don’t. It’ll ruin the experience), this melancholy plays under the surface. Sure, X and his pals are a riot, but you get the feeling early on in the flick that all is not well in the wood. This underlying tension makes the funny all the funnier. Hard to have the sweet without the bitter. It’s a principle of drama, even when that drama creeps just below.

*wipes sweat from…wherever.*

Back to a pair of character dynamics. One I promised, the other needs to be addressed. And don’t you think for a beat that I don’t know that this installment is stretching. Had a lot of sh*t about “period films” and Bounce was the ideal platform. Besides anyway, yer still here. Loser.

It’s understood X and his crew blend well together. They have to; they’re the chorus. You know? Greek theatre? Aw what do you know from nothin’? Maybe just as much as me about roller skating (no I will not let that go).

But anyway, Tori’s Robin to X’s Batman. Jurnee was a find. Here we have a smart girl, draped in naivete, polar opposite from X. She’s the new kid in town. He’s a fixture. She sucks at skating (harmful to her self-esteem). X is a whiz on eight wheels. She’s practical. X has his head in the clouds, or at least those monster earphones and his skating obsession. It’s a nice change of pace that the cute girl (but not too cute) tries time and again to bring the boy hero back to earth. And never once you get any real sexual tension between Tori and X and his gang. Quite the opposite; Tori can trade barbs with Junior faster that you can say, “Yo mama…” In the final analysis, you can see X and Tori becoming  best buds, and needing precious little bracing.

*groans. Time fer the cans*

Wait wait wait! That other bit, the one I was gonna address. It’s vital. To the drama and sh*t. Quit stomping already. And let go me shirt.

Chi McBride is a highly respected character actor. In Bounce that’s hard to argue. I first caught a glimpse of the man mopping up on The John Larroquette Show as Heavy Gene, the janitor sage of the bus terminal. His character was funny without being funny. Not so far a strecth an X’s dad in Bounce. Here McBride plays the “cool dad” i the very best way: by not being cool. I figured since REDACTED, Dad as Dad has been muted, yet still trying his best to keep X and his lil’ sis grounded. He’s the major source of serious drama in an otherwise fluffy film. Again and like I said, Bounce is all about the casting. And this a character drama as the nougat wrapped around by a summery story regarding skating. There might be a degree of “smart cheeze” draping the movie, but it makes the wavering all the easier to swallow. How’s that for the biggest line of crap in this entire installment? Thank you.

So back to and finally, Bounce is a sweet treat (especially with the excellent camera work with the dance movies. Hell, considering that there better be). As I said earlier, Bounce is no Dazed And Confused but their tenor is similar and on the mark. Simple and fun. Nostalgia. It works for everyone. Regarding movies, nostalgia doesn’t truly matter against a smart film ethos. Which Bounce has in spades.

Figure of speech. Oh well. Commence with the hurling. I should be used to it by now.

Y’all clung to the wall too, right?


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. Like I said, it’s simple and fun. Despite all my drunken histrionics sometimes it’s best to just let go of the wall and your ass to hit the floor. One more time. That’s a lyric. From the power pop band Earth Quake. It’s about an “all skate.”. From the 70s. Anybody there?

Stray Observations…

  • “A moment of silence for her face, please.”
  • I remember the old “street light rule.” Best be home before they light up, or else.
  • “I do have good hair!”
  • Best product placement I’ve seen in a long time.
  • “Somebody fan her, please?”
  • I heart the BeeGees, so screw you.
  • “Your mouth looks like an explosion in a tin foil factory!” Let the games begin.
  • The smashing the car scene was a little over the top. Effective, but over the top.
  • “Hey, if you’re dead can I get your Atari?”
  • A good chunk of this movie is a drawn out game of The Dozens. What’s The Dozens? Well The Dozens is a game. And how I f*ck yo mama is a goddam shame.
  • “I’m the king of this here flo’, ya dig?” We dig, bro. We dig. Just keep that ‘fro away from us.
  • That being said, I swear it’s all about the cool hair here. As it should be.
  • “And who left the white boy?”

Next Installment…

It’s a case of mistaken Identity. And it’s unfortunate we can’t precisely divine whose identity might be mistaken…as the killer.

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