|Roll Bounce (2005)
Starring: Bow Wow, Chi McBride, Wesley Jonathan, Meagan Good, Mike Epps, Charlie Murphy, Nick Cannon
Director: Malcom D. Lee
If John Travolta skated as well as he danced, then “Saturday Night Fever” would have been a lot more like “Roll Bounce,” though the similarities are unavoidable. Both films are about ridiculous fads in the 70’s (disco and roller disco, respectively), and rely on their coming-of-age male protagonists to carry the emotional load of the film. Travolta did a much better job with the latter task, but “Roll Bounce” succeeds on another level as an ensemble piece. Director Malcolm D. Lee has to know that his pint-sized star Bow Wow can’t carry the film on his own, but it doesn’t really matter since the real allure of the picture comes from the mind-blowing skate choreography to the sweet and funky tunes of the soul-infused soundtrack.
In the summer of 1978, despite the recent release of the Atari 2600 game system, most kids were still spending a majority of their time playing outside. And on the south side of Chicago, all Xavier “X” Smith (Bow Wow) and his friends want to do is roller skate. But after the local hotspot is shut down, the boys are forced to head up north to the glamorous Sweetwater Rink to enjoy their favorite pastime. And where they were once the hotshot skaters of the town, at Sweetwater, they’re nothing more than a bunch of unpolished hood rats. The reigning celebrity of the rink goes by the name Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan), an urban Travolta who even has his own theme music. After his arrogant crew embarrasses the south side boys, X signs up for the annual Skate Off, where he hopes to hone his skills and walk away with the $500 grand prize.
A subplot involving X’s broken relationship with his widowed father (Chi McBride) doesn’t get the respect it deserves – the audience was actually laughing during a presumably emotional scene – but Lee is mostly to blame for not spending more time developing his characters. Instead of easing in to the inevitable fight between the father and son, he picks an inopportune time to explain everything just when the audience has given up hope on the issue actually being resolved. Still, Bow Wow does a mighty good job matching onscreen punches with the brilliant McBride, and continues to deliver better-than-expected performances after his acting debut in “Like Mike." And while Mos Def remains the most talented rapper-turned-actor in the industry, Bow Wow is shaping up to be one of the most surprising entertainers of his generation.
Smaller cameos by comedians like Mike Epps, Charlie Murphy, Nick Cannon and Wayne Brady add to the urban appeal, but this is still a film that most anyone can enjoy. It’s no more like “Saturday Night Fever” than Bow Wow is like Travolta, but “Roll Bounce” has enough high moments to make you forget about its flaws. Now if only you can find a theater showing it without having to drive halfway across town.
The "Roll Bounce" DVD offers quite a bit of special features on the single-disc release including three audio commentaries featuring 1) director Malcolm D. Lee, 2) stars Bow Wow and Mike Epps, and 3) producers Norman Vance Jr. and Robert Teitel. Among the other extras included are twelve deleted scenes (with optional director commentary), a blazingly short featurette on production design, a making-of documentary that doubles as a promo for the film, and a gag reel. I don't really know why Fox Searchlight found it necessary to include three audio commentaries on the disc when one would have sufficed, and despite the high volume of bonus material, most of it is a giant waste of your time. Still, if you're a fan, it's nice to see the effort that was put forth in releasing the film on DVD.