Bow no Wow: Some <I>Roll</I> but no bounce
In 1977 Star Wars was released, inspiring generations of filmmakers. Hardly a month goes by without the opening of a film that was somehow influenced by George Lucas' seminal sci-fi epic.
Two years later, two films were released that were to have an equally significant, though less immediate impact on the entertainment industry. A sleeper cell of future filmmakers was created then and has finally been awakened. You can see the influence of Roller Boogie and Skatetown U.S.A. currently in Roll Bounce and next year in a film that was shot last month in Atlanta but at press time was known only as "Untitled Chris Robinson Project."
We'll let some Ph.D. candidate write a thesis comparing and contrasting the 1979 roller-disco movies with their 2005/6 offspring. All we can say now is that the first pair didn't set the bar very high, and neither does Roll Bounce.
A squeaky-clean PG-13, Roll Bounce features no sex (but a few homophobic remarks), drugs or rock, just roller skating to '70s disco classics that sounded better when we were taking drugs and dancing to them.
This is also a dance competition movie in the modern tradition of You Got Served, with the dancing being done on roller skates. In the opening scene the Palisade Gardens, the last roller rink on Chicago's South Side closes its doors, leaving five teenage boys with nowhere to go. They head north to the Sweetwater rink where they have to earn their cred all over again.
Their leader is Xavier Smith, known as X and played by Bow Wow. Wow has reached that awkward age between the cute kid he was in his first starring feature, Like Mike, and the hot stud he may be in a couple of years. At the moment he's just bland. The actor turned 18 in March, but the character is maybe 16. (He was 13 when his mother gave him the skates he still wears, so he must bind his feet like traditional Chinese women.)
The Garden Boys find stiff competition from Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan), "the baddest mofo on eight wheels," and the Sweetwater Rollers, the local heroes who always win the annual Skate Off that's coming up in a few weeks. X has his eyes on the prize, determined to bring it south. He also has his eyes on Naomi (Meagan Good), a girl he dated once before she turned beautiful, but for reasons that never become clear, he resists her advances.
X's mother died last December, and he's still having trouble dealing with it. So is his father (Chi McBride), an out-of-work engineer trying to take care of X and his sister, who's "five going on 40." A series of heavy dramatic scenes, mostly between father and son, drag down the overlong movie's midsection, before the big Skate Off comes along to liven things up.
X has a new neighbor, Tori (Jurnee Smollett of Eve's Bayou), who hasn't turned beautiful yet, but there's no doubt her braces will come off before the end of the movie. If Naomi gets X, she'll have to choose from Junior (Brandon T. Jackson), Boo (Marcus T. Paulk), Naps (Rick Gonzalez) and Mixed Mike (Khleo Thomas). Tori has a hot, single mom (Kellita Smith) who might be available when X's dad gets over mourning.
Most of the attempts at humor in Roll Bounce come from people dissing each other, or whatever it was called a quarter-century ago when the movie takes place. Mike Epps and Charlie Murphy play trash men who are supposed to be funny but don't have any material. The same goes for Nick Cannon in an extended cameo as the guy who runs the skate rental at Sweetwater.
In this age of extreme sports, the skating contest here looks pretty quaint. There are some hot dance moves, with most of X's done by a stunt double (Do not adjust your set– the star's head is supposed to be cut off), but nothing to compare with the extreme dancing in You Got Served.
Even if he's borderline boring in Roll Bounce, Bow Wow is probably the 18-year-old every eight-year-old boy will want to be, so this movie could be a serious hit.