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20th Century Fox presents
Torri: Come on! Y'all never heard of the Bee Gees?
DVD ReviewMore so than almost any other genre, you can generally go into a sports movie knowing what kind of story to expect, so the pleasure, or lack thereof, is in the details. A good baseball movie, for instance, will have a strong focus on character, and usually a nice smattering of humor and heart, to make up for the fact that the story follows a rhythm as old as the game itself. Roll Bounce, from director Malcolm D. Lee, has some advantages in this respect. Of course, it's about roller skating, meaning it doesn't have to be compared to anything as good as, say, Field of Dreams (Roller Derby isn't putting up much of a fight), but it has merits beyond that, and despite a storyline cribbed from a dozen other films, avoids falling on its butt (or careening across the rink and slamming face-first into a pole, for that matter) thanks to a winning cast and charming period atmosphere.
Pint-sized rapper turned actor Bow Wow (L'il no more, but developing nicely as a charismatic actor) plays Xavier ("X" to his friends), a teen living on the south side of Chicago in the late 1970s. He and his buddies spend most of their summers on wheels at the rundown local roller rink, but when it closes down, they are forced to travel across town to a fancy blacklight and laser place on the north side, were all the skaters are rich kids and a smooth cat known as Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan) rules the roost. Sweetness' posse (and because it's the '70s, these guys can be cool despite tight, glittery polyester pants that match) doesn't want "the welfare crew" around, and a rivalry develops. Don't worry, though, there's a convenient end of summer group skate contest that will settle the score.
With that setup, you can see where the story is going, and you're probably right. But the plot avoids plenty of potential pitfalls. For one thing, the rivalry between the skaters isn't racially motivated—making it white versus black would have been a mistake in such a lighthearted movie. They don't enter the skate contest to win the cash prize for some dire reason, or, thank goodness, to save their local rink (I think Dodgeball helped retire that particular plot device, thankfully). Contrived drama is also kept to a minimum. When not skating, X struggles to deal with his mother's recent death, and his relationship with his father (Chi McBride) is rather rocky as a result. If these scenes of conflict feel a little too maudlin at times (especially when the boy smashes a car with a baseball bat in a fit of anger, seemingly without consequences), the heartfelt conversations between father and son play well enough, and are a small enough part of the story that they give the lead a satisfying emotional arc rather than distract from the lighter sequences at the roller rink.
Because really, that's why the movie works. X has a gang of friends that comes across as completely genuine, both in attitude and performance, and even if they are all sort of one-note, they're a lot of fun. Junior (Brandon Jackson) is the requisite loud mouth, always engaging in putdown contests. "Mixed Mike" (Khelo Thomas) gets needled because his dad is black and his mom is white, but it's good-natured ribbing. Naps (Rick Gonzalez) has nappy hair, and it pretty much defines his character, and Boo (Marcus Paulk) is the silent type. It's not brilliant or anything, but any scene with the whole group together is entertaining because it seems like real friends hanging out (I'm reminded of a similar dynamic in The Sandlot, a remarkably similar movie in many ways). There are also a few girls in the story. Torri (Jurnee Smith) is your typical ugly duckling, but she can stand up for herself, too, and is quick with the comebacks when Junior disses her. And then there's the requisite love interest, Naomi (Meagan Good), whom X is attracted to whenever his emotions aren't getting in the way.
Director Malcolm D. Lee proved he knows how to do the '70s on film with the under-seen private eye spoof Undercover Brother, and in Roll Bounce, he shows the same eye for detail. Sure, a lot of it is pretty broad and jokey, especially at the roller rink—Sweetness' Tony Manero-style skating uniform, a roller rink employee (Nick Cannon) who looks and acts like Hendrix—but scenes of the friends lounging around playing early Atari games or strolling around the neighborhood are sweetened with a warm hint of nostalgia (and I wasn't even around in 1978). And then there are the skating scenes, of course, which are cleverly shot to show off the moves and hide the stunt doubles, and they play very well, accompanied by the disco beats on the soundtrack.
Roll Bounce is a little uneven, and probably too long, but its heart is in the right place. It did zero business in theaters (Fox Searchlight can't seem to market itself out of a paper bag these days, what with this and the disappointing returns for the excellent In Her Shoes), but deserves to be rediscovered on DVD. Kids, especially Bow Wow fans, will love it, and don't worry too much about the PG-13 rating. There are a few mild, fairly innocent sexual references (primarily repeated shots of the guys ogling some hottie walking by) and some very mild language, and that's it. If this actually came out in the '70s, it would be rated PG, easily.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Perhaps Roll Bounce's '70s atmosphere is too genuine, because this transfer looks badly dated. I know it's a low budget film, and I didn't see it theatrically so I don't know how it's supposed to look, but it takes some getting used to at home. The image looks very soft and hazy, with background details lacking definition. There is also a lot of grain, particularly in dark scenes, which already look a little rough thanks to worse than average shadow detail. There's also some edge enhancement visible in spots. This isn't a horrible transfer by any means, but it's shockingly sub-par for a new film, especially from Fox.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: The audio mix comes across better, and the disco and funk tunes on the soundtrack help to flesh out a fairly straightforward, front-heavy comedy mix with added bass and some surround action. Otherwise, dialogue sounds clear and natural, and the rear channels offer decent atmospheric enhancement during crowd scenes at the roller rink.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Like Mike 2, Dr. Dolittle 3, The Ringer
5 Deleted Scenes
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Malcolm D. Lee; Lee and actors Bow Wow and Mike Epps; Lee, writer Norman Vance Jr., and producer Robert Teitel
Packaging: Keep Case
Twelve deleted scenes (19m:51s) offer up some excised storylines and character moments, and are presented here with optional commentary from Lee and Vance, while Forward Motion: The Making of Roll Bounce (12m:58s) is a pretty standard promotional making-of piece. Most of the running time is used up on the actors talking about their characters and explaining the plot, but the end does cover the training and extra effort that went into the skating scenes.
Bow Wow Profile (03m:51s) is a brief, fluffy interview with the lead actor, who talks about why he was attracted to the film. He says he doesn't think there's ever been a father and son relationship onscreen like the one in this movie. Bow Wow needs to go to the theater a little more often. '70s Stylin': The Look of Roll Bounce (04m:01s) offers a bit of detail on the film's period clothing and atmosphere.
Two reels of Skating Competition Newswraps run around six minutes, and I'm not sure exactly why they're on the DVD. From what I can gather, a skate-off was held to help promote the film, and these are interviews with some of the teams that competed. There's also a cute gag reel (09m:51s) of the kids goofing off on the set and falling down on the rink; it runs a little long but is OK as far as these things go.
In the realm of promo material, there's the trailer, a music video for Boogie Oogie Oogie and a soundtrack spot, a featurette/preview of Ice Age 2 and clips for The Ringer and direct-to-DVD sequels Like Mike 2 and Dr. Dolittle 3.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsA fun and funky sports film that manages to distract you from a rather rote plot with charming, quirky characters and convincing period detail, Roll Bounce deserves a second chance on DVD. I'd call it the best roller skating movie since Xanadu, but I don't want to give you the wrong idea (I also have problems using "best" and "Xanadu" in the same sentence).
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