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Roll Bounce Review

By Shawn McKenzie 09/24/2005

Roll Bounce is the third movie for Spike Lee’s younger cousin, Malcolm D. Lee, and if it weren’t for some minor problems I had with it, I would have given it a better rating.

A group of teenagers, led by Xavier “X” Smith (Bow Wow), like to hang out at the Palisade Gardens Roller Rink in the South Side neighborhood of Chicago in the summer of 1978.  His friends are: Mixed Mike (Khleo Thomas), a short guy who has a white mom; Naps (Rick Gonzalez), who is so poor that he has to rent his skates; Boo (Marcus T. Paulk), who wears purple underwear and likes a girl named Tootsie Roll (Tai’isha Davis); and Junior (Brandon T. Jackson), the quiet one.  They skate around the rink, while the DJ, D.J. Smooth Dee (Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, from the legendary rap group Run DMC), plays their favorite tunes.  X delivers newspapers to make money, but he really doesn’t care if they make it to the front porch.  His father Curtis (Chi McBride) insists that he gets home before the street lights come on.  X has recently made a new friend in neighbor Tori Turner (Jurnee Smollett), whose sexy mom, Vivian (Kellita Smith), is ogled by X and the garbage men Byron (Mike Epps) and Victor (Charlie Murphy.)  Tori’s dad lives in Atlanta with a white woman, and she is teased constantly about her braces by X’s friends.  When the rink closes down after 25 years, the guys have to find a new rink to hang out.  They have to go to the North Side, where the next closest roller rink is Sweetwater Roller Rink, that’s managed by Bernard (Nick Cannon) and DJ’ed by D.J. Johnny Feelgood (Wayne Brady.)  The Sweetwater Rollers, led by Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan), along with his skating cronies Troy (Paul Wesley) and Roy (Daniel Yabut), rule the rink, and they look down on the poor South Side kids.  X has more problems in his life though, other than dealing with snobby skaters at a rink across town.  He, his dad, and his 5-year-old sister Sonya (Busisiwe Irvin) are still grieving over his mother Cathy, who died of a heart condition two weeks before Christmas the year before.  Also, Curtis has lost his job, but he hasn’t told X or Sonya this yet, so he puts up the front of going to work, when he is really trying to find any job he can get (he used to be an engineer.)  At least X has found something good recently:  a girl from the old neighborhood, Naomi (Meagan Good), skates at Sweetwater, and he likes her (even though Tori is jealous of her though.)  Curtis thinks that X is wasting his time with skating, but he is really good, even though he uses old skates that his mom got him for his thirteenth birthday.  The Sixth Annual Sweetwater Skate-Off is right around the corner, and X’s Garden Boys want to win the $500 prize, along with the chance to brag that they are better than the arrogant North Side kids.

The first two movies Lee helmed were 1999’s The Best Man and 2002’s Undercover Brother, which were both good films (I liked Brother a little better.)  That’s not saying that I didn’t like this one, but it wasn’t my favorite of the three.  Maybe I am losing my sensitivity chip, but the gooey sweetness (no pun intended) in the movie was a little overboard.  The touchy-feely stuff didn’t really do it for me.  Norman Vance Jr., who wrote the screenplay for Beauty Shop (which I haven’t seen yet) and several UPN and WB sitcoms, wrote this script, and it was good…except for the sap.

The actors did a great job though for the most part.  This is the first movie I’ve seen where Bow Wow (formerly Lil’ Bow Wow) looked and acted like a teenager instead of a little kid.  I’ve only seen him in the 2002 movie Like Mike before (and a minor role in the 2001 MTV TV musical “Carmen: A Hip Hopera”), but he has matured into a decent actor.  McBride has been one of my favorite actors for a long time, so I thought he made a convincing dad.  The girls, Good and Smollett, did okay, but they were definitely reduced to being supporting characters (though Smollett did hold her own in the snaps department.  Her insult, “You need to stop chewing on them yellow crayons,” was priceless.)  As the “bad guy” in the movie, Jonathan stood out.  He had the smugness that you would want in a character that was full of himself and who was adored by a rink-full of screaming girls (including Irvin’s character, who fainted every time she saw him.)  I’ve seen him as Gary on the WB’s “What I Like About You” for four seasons now, and he still likes to show off his ripped abs.  You would think that the DJ’s, McDaniels and Brady, would be memorable, but they weren’t (with the huge ‘fro and glasses, Brady was barely unrecognizable.)  A couple of minor characters were memorable though.  Cannon actually proved that he could be funny in his small role, and Wesley was funny as one of the only white characters in the movie.  Epps and Murphy tried to be funny, but their brief appearances didn’t stand out for me.

I’m a big stickler for historical continuity, but for the first time, it wasn’t the music I had a problem with here (the music was great.)  Some of the characters used slang that wouldn’t have been around in the ‘70s.  I may have been only 3 years old in the summer of ’78, but I’m pretty sure that the word “trippin’” was not used then.  Otherwise, I think that they got things right, with the styles and other pop culture references, like Yoo-Hoo and Atari 2600 (though I’m surprised that they could afford an Atari 2600 in 1978.)

I was kind of hoping for more actual skating tricks.  I remember going to the roller rink when I was a kid, and I was never that good myself, but I admired those who were good.  It wasn’t until the big Skate-Off in the end that they finally showed some tricks.  Sure…everyone wore their skates the whole time in the movie, but they didn’t do a lot of skate trickery (even the just-okay Lords of Dogtown from this year had more skateboarding in that movie than this one had with roller skates.)

I like that the producers of Roll Bounce have announced that 10% of its proceeds for the movie’s opening weekend will go to the Operation USA for Hurricane Katrina disaster relief.  With the fun atmosphere and the feel-good sentiment of the movie, the charity should see some decent funds coming their way this weekend.


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