Rated: PG-13 Reviewed by: Jim Release date: September 23, 2005 Released by: Fox Searchlight Pictures
An uneven, but likeable homage to growing up in the south side of Chicago during the colorful time when roller disco was the rave is Malcolm D. Lee's Roll Bounce. It will appeal most to urban markets, but has potential to groove outside of its primary demographic.
Lee appears to have all of the elements of 1978 in place to make this a funky soulful time and has a good young performer Bow Wow (not "Lil" anymore) headlining this You Got Served on roller skates.
The star of Like Mike and, most recently, Johnson Family Vacation, is lower middle-class skater Xavier, or X, who was a champ at the Palisades Gardens Roller Rink. But, the lensing by J. Michael Muro saturates more hues from a more gritty urban landscape as X moves to the more elegant north side rink called Sweetwater.
The worn skates he uses mean a lot because they're from his late mother and the story periodically emphasizes her presence in dialogue and photographs.
X's dad Curtis (Chi McBride of The Terminal) is too proud to admit he's been laid off and pretends to go to work each morning. He'll be lost in garage car repair and will sell his red Mustang. Eventually the emotional distance between father and son will take its toll in a heated confrontation that isn't as poignant as one had hoped given the bond between Bow Wow and McBride.
Meanwhile, much of the film's youthful energetic humor comes from the repartee between X and his often out-spoken friends, including Naps (Rick Gonzalez of Coach Carter) and Junior (Brandon T. Jackson). X is resisting the advances of the innocent, alluring Naomi (Meagan Good of You Got Served), sympathetic to his personal life. Jurnee Smollett is adorable as the picked-on, tag-along Tori who wears braces and enjoys skating with X helping him deliver newspapers.
The uninspired script by Norman Vance Jr. (Beauty Shop) has X and his Garden Boys in the big climactic skateoff for $500 at Sweetwater up against a melting pot team led by the rink's reigning smooth-talking arrogant skater, Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan). In pitting X and the celebrity who makes women and girls swoon, Lee understates the racial and socio-economic problems with pop culture references more prevalent: Lite Brite, "Star Wars", "What's Happening!" and "The Mod Squad", among many.
But, Roll Bounce doesn't aim to involve deep sociology as it stays in tune with adolescent angst, as trite and predictable as the plot and interactions play out. Yet, it rises above the music video mentality from the polished visual pizzazz and the impressions on the young actors by the "godfather of roller disco", Bill Butler. It pays off during the late scenes of jam skating as Jonathan and Bow Wow prove their dynamism in ways that showcase moves like those seen in Ice Princess.
Lee had a nice vibe on the blaxploitation era in Undercover Brother and here he's got the flash for the afros, four-wheeled skates, and bell-bottoms, along with a nostalgic soundtrack featuring the likes of Sister Sledge, Carl Douglas, The Sylvers, The Ohio Players, and Donna Summer. Maybe this coming-of-age spin on Thank God It's Friday will entice expert roller bladers to challenge themselves in a retro way or new skaters to find their way into a risky, but exciting fusion of skating and break-dancing.
10 percent of Fox Searchlight Pictures's opening weekend box office proceeds for the film's September 23, 2005 U.S. release will be donated to Operation USA for Hurricane Katrina disaster relief.