Image courtesy of www.impawards.com
Malcolm D Lee
Chi McBride……….Curtis Smith
Meagan Good …. Naomi
With the success of 2004’s You Got Served and Honey the year before, dance-oriented teen movies seem to be on the comeback. From their heyday in the 1980s with Flashdance, Footloose and Breakin’, dance movies aimed at the younger set are usually involving young adults raging against society with some sort of loud competition looming in the background. Think Rocky, except with a lot more bass.
And out of the rich opulence of the teen dance movie comes Roll Bounce. And in genre that generally features hit or miss comedy and lousy story-telling, Roll Bounce features a great story with uneven comedy following its protagonist X (Bow Wow).
X is the best skater at the Palisades Garden skating center on the South Side of Chicago circa 1978. But when it’s shut down, X and his motley group of skaters have to go to the North Side to the Sweetwater skating rink in order to partake. Sweetwater is ruled by Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan) and his Sweetwater rollers. After getting shown up on the rink in their first encounter, the garden crew has to rebound and step up their game. With a group skating competition at the end of the summer looming, the group has to nail their moves down in order to compete with the slicker counterparts who rule the roost. And while the movie attempts at lots of humor, at its heart remains a well-told story about a boy’s coming of age and his relationship with his father.
Credit Malcolm D Lee for using the story’s inherent drama to its fullest. While lesser movies of the genre (meaning: most of them) will normally use the story as a backdrop to elaborate dance sequences and loud dance music, but Roll Bounce is a rarity in the genre: it builds up to, not around, the clichÃƒÂ©d dance off at the end. The focus is on the story, about a young man growing into adulthood with a single father and younger sister, not on fantastic visuals that grow stale over time. While it contains nothing new or ground-breaking, the story itself is solidly built and moved upon. X looks at skating to help get over the death of his mother in the same manner his father uses his car maintenance to avoid dealing with it.
The story also builds into the big dance sequence at the end without having an overload early on. While the skating and dancing is prevalent, it isn’t used so overwhelmingly as in other movies. When we see the extended sequences at the end it’s engaging and fresh if only because it is used so sparingly in the build up to the finale. The finale itself is well-done and well shot, as it is the crescendo of yet another strong point of Roll Bounce: the ambience.
It is 1970s Chicago and it is captured to a tee. From the language to the music, as well as the cars, Roll Bounce captures the look and feel of 1978. It doesn’t hurt that the parts of Chicago used to connect places in the movie are the actual parts of the Windy City (a rarity in dealing with cinematic Chicago). While Roll Bounce has so much going for it in terms of story and dance sequences, the one thing that really takes away from it being a great movie is its uneven comedy.
There are too many moments where everyone on screen laughs at the humor, as if they were a laugh track, and the joke isn’t funny. There is too much of this kind, where in a TV sitcom a laugh track would be supplied, and not enough of what makes the movie work: slight, subtle gags that evoke a response without trying so hard. It derails the first act of the movie, as too many times a joke is just thrown out for approval when something easier or more subtle would’ve made it work more effectively. After the first act the movie settles into a much more subtle humor, allowing the natural comedy from its story to generate laughs instead of more obvious and less funny material.