Undercover Brother director Malcolm D. Lee takes another trip down memory lane with Roll Bounce, a nostalgic paean to ‘70s-era youthfulness and the short-lived fad of roller disco that coasts by on an amiable soul-funk groove. X (a surprisingly assured Bow “Don’t call me Lil’” Wow) is a poor Southside skate champ who, after his favorite rink is closed, heads over to the ritzy north-side Sweetwater Rink with his posse of smart-mouthed friends, only to find that his unpolished skills are no match for the joint’s reigning celebrity superstar, Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan). Because X is also dealing with the loss of his mother and the gruff disinterest of his unemployed, emotionally absent father Curtis (Chi McBride), the kid has trouble picking up on hottie Naomi’s (Meagan Good) blatantly obvious come-ons, an oversight exacerbated by the stress of an upcoming skate-off in which X’s ragamuffin crew must battle Sweetness’s snobbish team of Caucasian and Asian pricks. Norman Vance Jr.‘s script can’t keep from making kitschy pop-culture references—including nods to What’s Happening!!, Lite Brite, The Mod Squad, Star Wars, The Fonz, and smooth-as-silk NBA star George “Ice Man” Gervin—while subtly attempting to play up the racial and socio-economic tensions at the heart of financially disadvantaged X’s conflict with the upscale Sweetness. According to Roll Bounce, miscegenation was not prone to elicit raised eyebrows in either the white or African-American community in 1978, a harmonious view of the era that’s in keeping with the film’s positive, upbeat attitude toward adolescent growing pains. But Lee’s is not a tween-oriented sociological study so much as a frothy blend of sports drama clichés and Sixteen Candles-esque angst with a knack for authentic period detail (like X having to be home before the street lamps are fully lit). And though there’s hardly a moment that isn’t telegraphed from a county away or marred by one-dimensional emotions, Bow Wow and his genial buddies—hackneyed types to be sure, but nonetheless pleasantly innocuous ones cast in the Fat Albert gang mold—put on a reasonably swinging, scintillating show during the climactic showdown in which it’s verified that roller skates and triple Lutzes do not, under any circumstances, go together.
- Malcolm D. Lee
- Norman Vance Jr.
- Bow Wow, Chi McBride, Mike Epps, Wesley Jonathan, Kellita Smith, Meagan Good, Khleo Thomas, Nick Cannon, Rick Gonzalez, Marcus T. Paulk, Brandon T. Jackson, Jurnee Smollett, Charlie Murphy, Paul Wesley
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