July 13, 2006


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Wassup Rockers (R)
The secret lives of the ghetto skate-punk teens are examined with an anthropologic fascination worthy of a Discovery documentary in Wassup Rockers, the latest movie from Kids writer and director Larry Clark.

Like Kids, Wassup Rockers finds the outer actions and the inner thoughts (not to mention the awkward physiques) of the urban 14- to 17-year-old utterly fascinating. I suppose they are, though mostly to the kids themselves. The movie does try its damnedest to convince us all this sweaty angst is really meaningful.

A group of some seven guys from South Central Los Angeles spend most of their days skating and thinking about, talking about and very occasionally interacting with girls. These guys are derisively labeled as “rockers” because instead of gang-chic (baggy pants, shaved heads and the like) these kids wear their pants tight and their hair 1970s-guitarman long and sport a vaguely punk look. They even have a rock band, though whether it’s supposed to be punk or metal is hard to tell because mostly it’s just bad. With very limited parental supervision, these boys bum around, preferring a set of stairs in Beverly Hills as a skate locale to their own neighborhood. Naturally, a troop of Hispanic teens in a rich neighborhood doesn’t go unnoticed. On one such trip, the kids have a run-in with a cop. While running away, they come up against a group of preppy boys who don’t like these “Mexicans” hitting on their girls, a party of hipsters who are amused by and attracted to these boys, a gun-toting celebrity and a really long walk back to the barrio.

As with Kids, Wassup Rockers has its heavy dose of laissez faire teenage sex, most of it involving Jonathan (Jonathan Velasquez), the ladies’ man of the group. The movie offers neither its approval or disapproval of his behavior, though another boy does weep over his belief that he has fathered a child he’ll likely never see. That’s perhaps the closest this film comes to any kind of actions-have-consequences statement.

The movie finds all of this can’t-look-away fascinating, turning the camera on these dumb kids (across the board, all the teens featured here — whether their home is ghetto or gated — seem dangerously, breathtakingly stupid) as though they are godly beings from another planet. This makes for a few what-feels-like-endless scenes of the teens talking to each other, their conversation being an excellent argument for military school or perhaps some kind of Peace Corps-like service into which all high schoolers must be conscripted. While there are occasional scenes of honesty or genuine-seeming this-is-the-way-life-is moments, most of the movie seems lost in an adoration of its own edginess (though, at some point, someone should explain to Clark the difference between “edgy” and “amateurish”). “This is all sooo important” the movie says to us with the earnestness and detached irony of a Starbucks barista explaining her latest piece of performance art. Yes, sure, whatever, we think, but can’t we move this along? C

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