Judge Ryan Keefer thinks you can learn a lot from a movie when its title is composed solely of verbs.
Get ready to roll bounce.
In the summer of 1978, a group of young roller skaters, led by X (Bow Wow, Like Mike, Johnson Family Vacation) are disappointed when their local skating rink closes down. The place had a notable reputation for 25 years, but now, the kids are left with nothing to do. They decide to go to the town's other, more affluent side to the skate rink there, where they run into a group of skaters that have held the title of the best. Can X's group win the crown? Will he get the girl in the end? Is it even worth watching?
Facts of the Case
Written by Norman Vance Jr. (Beauty Shop) and directed by Malcolm D. Lee (Undercover Brother), Roll Bounce is set in 1978 Chicago. X is a kid whose mother died several years ago, and his dad Curtis (Chi McBride, I, Robot) still mourns his loss, without really helping the kids on theirs. X delivers newspapers and goes to the roller rink with his friends Junior (Brandon T. Jackson, A Talent for Trouble), Boo (Marcus T. Paulk, Moesha), Naps (Rick Gonzalez, War of the Worlds) and Mixed Mike. (Khleo Thomas, Baadasssss!, Walking Tall).
After their beloved south side roller rink is closed down, they hop on the bus and go to the North side's roller rink, home of the "best skater around," a guy named Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan, Panther). Along the way, they find the guy who runs the skate rental counter, a womanizer with some wisdom named Bernard (Nick Cannon, Underclassmen, Drumline), and a girl that X has known for a long time, named Naomi (Meagan Good, D.E.B.S.). X's team sees a sign for a skate-off, and they spend the summer preparing for the contest.
Well upon further review, it would appear that the film, with Lee's direction and Vance's story, is a little bit confused. Now don't get me wrong, parts of it were cute and I chuckled once or twice, but some of the scenes in the film were just a little mixed up. X meets a new friend early on named Tori (Jurnee Smollett, Eve's Bayou) who is constantly teased by Junior because of her braces, but he ends up liking her. Huh? And it seems like when everyone is in the groove of the song, things are said and done that sound like things that are said circa 1995. Getting kids of today to play kids of two decades ago simply just doesn't work.
The film wants to focus on several different areas, like X's resentment of his father not doing enough to care for him and his younger sister, or the ability to work on the team's skating routines just before the skate-off. The problem with that is that none of them really have any significant time spent on them to evolve the characters, to make them interesting or likable enough. Those more recognizable stars who appear in small roles, such as the trash men played by Mike Epps (The Honeymooners) and Charlie Murphy (Chappelle's Show), or even the next door neighbor single mother played by Kellita Smith (The Bernie Mac Show) are worth a couple of laughs, but don't steal scenes like you'd expect them to.
As for Bow Wow (is it Bow, or Mr. Wow?), he seems like a nice enough kid, but when he's not laughing, goofing around or having a good time, the scenes that require him to show some sort of expression don't happen. Instead of emotion, there's a look on his face like he's going to hit the person that's making him try to be introspective or something. Or maybe he smelled a fart. Either way, if you want to get noticed for your film work, so you can be an established double threat in the entertainment word, start showing some insight to your thoughts kid. God only knows that if Marc Anthony can appear in credible motion pictures and do some good work in them, then you can do the same thing.
Fox does the usual solid job of putting a lot of thought into their DVD releases, but it does backfire a little bit. There are three commentary tracks, all of which include Lee's participation. Not only does it beg the question "What the hell for?" but it also cramps the room on this disc for a decent video presentation. There was a decent level of film grain reproduced on the disc, but the image seemed entirely too soft, and not as sharp as other Fox releases. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is immersive, but not overly so, and maybe the reason I didn't enjoy it as much was that I was expecting the usual outstanding Fox treatment.
Aside from the commentaries, which I skipped (come on, have some mercy on a poor, beaten down Judge), the other features on the disc include over 10 minutes of deleted scenes that include optional commentary by—wait for it—Director Malcolm D. Lee. Seriously though, I kid, but to have any director sit through his movie three additional times for commentaries, then include some more time on the deleted scenes, is both remarkable and commendable. There's a profile on the magic and mystery that is Bow Wow, along with separate smaller looks at the fashion and production of the movie. Some smaller extras, like a gag reel, and some trailers and previews, finish things out.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
To be fair, the one performance that appealed to me in the movie was McBride's. The scenes where he interacted with Bow Wow gave him a chance to show why he's an underappreciated talent. I still don't know how I managed to type "the scenes where he interacted with Bow Wow" and not laugh at myself. Regardless of that minor discovery, if there's a reason to watch this film, it's McBride. I'd love to see him do more prominent work.
Perhaps I'm unfairly judging this film as a 30-something white boy living out in the middle of nowhere, so there's no reasonable way I can expect to like this movie. Still, it's an entertaining, harmless little romp that the kids will enjoy, because of the dreamy boys that star in this vehicle.
Roll Bounce is found guilty. Judges' skate now, so everyone off the floor.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director Malcolm D. Lee
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