Fox // 2010 // 98 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // October 2nd, 2011
It was a time when life was easy, in a place they thought would never change.
Anthony Burns' Skateland works pretty well as a straightforward tribute to the classic American culture of the 1980s, but in terms of story and character development, this independent Sundance contender fails to impress. Although the film boasts superb production values, a gorgeous cinematography and a fabulous soundtrack, it's the overly conventional plot that eventually causes its downfall. Skateland should've been a movie that follows memorable characters struggling with compelling obstacles. Instead, all it does is focus on a group of youngsters drowning in a permanent state of boredom and indifference.
Set in a small Texas town during the early '80s, Burns' flick introduces us to Ritchie (Shiloh Fernandez, Cadillac Records), a nineteen-year-old who works at a local skating rink and spends the majority of his free time stumbling from one party to another. Ritchie isn't too concerned about where life will take him, and as carefree as he is, he feels utterly comfortable with his lifestyle until he finds out the skating rink he cherishes so much is about to permanently shut its doors.
Skateland is a movie filled with nostalgia. It pays tribute to the works of John Hughes and films such as American Graffiti and The Last Picture Show, and it also invites viewers to travel back to a time of wacky haircuts, energetic rollerskating and fun '80s pop music, among many other things. As entertaining as all this sounds, the movie has a darker side, and most of its obvious flaws bleed right through conventional screenwriting.
In short, the film's utterly carefree characters don't really do anything for most of the 98-minute running time. They hook up with friends, consume a ton of beer and reminisce about good times, and as much fun as this may be for them, it all quickly becomes quite repetitive to us viewers. With the plot heading into no particular direction, Burns and writing partners Heath and Brandon Freeman introduce several unnecessary subplots designed to introduce a dramatic element. Truth be told, they end up doing more damage than good.
Skateland starts strong but starts to drag 20 minutes in, moving sluggishly all the way to the final act, where a sudden tragic event changes things up a bit and forces our characters to rush into some big decisions. Alas, just like several other plot points in the film, this event feels unnatural and over the top. Ritchie has a sudden change of heart, and before you know it, his troubles are gone and the future looks bright. Where did that one come from?
A substantial part of the flick is dedicated to a building romance between Ritchie and his best friend's sister Michelle (Ashley Greene, Twilight). While the two share decent onscreen chemistry, their relationship is merely used to help Ritchie become a responsible grownup ready to accept that nothing in life ever stays the same. It's a solid message, but I wish the filmmakers would've spend more time developing the characters to convey their ideas in a more organic, compelling way.
Despite a rather shallow script, Skateland should not be qualified as a failure. For an independent production, the film actually looks very expensive. As I already mentioned, the photography is stunning, and both set decoration and costume design surprise throughout. The soundtrack meshes with the editing very well, and from a production point of view, Skateland is a pleasure to watch. The cast certainly doesn't disappoint, although I must admit I was occasionally put off by Fernandez's permanently odd grin. That said, he connects well with his fellow cast members.
On DVD, Skateland looks fantastic. The disc offers he film in a clean 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, and the picture hits a home run in terms of quality. Fans of the soundtrack will thoroughly enjoy the audio transfer, which adequately balances dialogue with the hip tunes. The bonus section includes a few deleted scenes, but that's it for the specials.
Anthony Burns' directorial debut shows potential, but it could've been a much better, more poignant film had he focused more on further developing the relationships between his lead characters. Technically, Skateland is a flawless experience, but when it comes to story, the most crucial aspect, the film falls a little short.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site