by Amy Diaz
Not since Bring It On
took on issues of racial inequity have social issues (in this case, the
class struggle and your general coming-of-age mishmash) been as
entertainingly examined as they are in the big-hearted, goofy-fun Roll
Yes, perhaps “Le Freak”
and “Hollywood Swinging” will bring us all together. Perhaps all it
takes are the words “open skate” to get the whole world out on the rink
— whether our dad is an out-of-work engineer forced to work as a janitor
(Chi McBride) or we are a slick disco hottie named Sweetness (Wesley
Xavier (Bow Wow, too
old now for the “Lil’”), or X as his friends call him, is the leader of
his group of roller rink-addicted pack. The kids spend their
South-Side-of-Chicago summer hanging out at the local rink and
practicing what a more fey group of kids might call a routine but what
these pseudo-street kids simply see as their god-given superiority on
the roller disco floor. Despite their South Side addresses, however, and
their laments that nothing good stays open in the hood, they are
uncoolly distressed when the roller rink closes (one not-so-tough is
even moved to tears). Now they have to go uptown to Sweetwater. Though
uneasy about leaving their neighborhood, the boys grow to like their new
surroundings — in part because of all the hot girls at Sweetwater and in
part because of a show-off skater named Sweetness. Along with his crew,
Sweetness has all the kids at Sweetwater, especially the girls, dazzled
by his roller skating abilities and his supernatural suaveness. The boys
are eager to show Sweetwater and his crew that they’re not the best but
an initial showdown doesn’t go so well for the South Side Rollers. Ah,
cue the training and preparation montage!
Meanwhile (a movie like
this always needs at least two meanwhiles), X and his little sister are
still adjusting to life with their widowed dad (McBride). The death of
their mother leaves the kids sad, the father sort of lost and all
members of the family disconnected. The gulf between X and his dad only
grows when he learns that his dad has been out of work for months
without ever mentioning it.
In the second
meanwhile, X is also navigating a very cautious relationship with Naomi
(Meagan Good). A sweet girl he used to hang around with, Naomi has
blossomed into a heartbreaker who may still have the hots for X.
Roll Bounce handles all
of this with a feather-light touch — though South Side/North Side
rivalries move the plot along, this isn’t exactly Nickel and Dimed.
Physical comedy and disco music provide a constant background to the
movie with moments of not-particularly-brilliant but nonetheless funny
dialog and some uniformly above average acting by the kids. Particularly
good is Jurnee Smollett who plays the braces-wearing buddy of the main
group of boys. She isn’t intimidated by the insults that serve as
intraboy affection and is just the right mix of chum and girl.
highlights one of the best features of the movie: all the kids look and
sound like kids. No 30-year-olds pretending to be young teens; no
over-developed, over-sexed female companions. Watch a show like The O.C.
or Laguna Beach and you forget entirely what teens actually look like.
Here they have believable personalities and age-appropriate awkwardness.
Roll Bounce is not
great, possibly not even all that good, but it is fun and warms your
heart like mac and cheese on a fall day.