Yet another one of those coloring-book style "coming of age" period pieces in which an underdog becomes a hero by hard work and a lot of flimsy plot crutches, Roll Bounce might just be the very best roller-disco movie of the year. It sure as hell is the worst one of the year.
The formerly "Lil" Bow Wow stars as "Exavier," a pleasantly bland middle-class black kid who hangs around with a quartet of the most familiar 1978 stereotypes this side of The Cosby Kids. Ardent roller skaters, X and his gang are crushed to see their beloved rink shuttered -- especially because it means they now have to travel "uptown" to skate in the glitzier palace on the other side of the tracks. It's there that X meets a girl, earns some rivals, pisses off his papa, and struggles through the recent death of his dear departed mama.
Yee-awn. I've seen After School Specials with more heart, wit, creativity, and style. Aside from the vibrantly polished, fake-looking wardrobe stylings and the middle-school pageant-level acting performances, Roll Bounce is as stock, familiar, and formulaic as movies come. Frankly the thing looks, sounds, and feel like it was created entirely by a Movie Computer running the "pre-teen urban demographic" program.
Heck, I know that I'm not even remotely the "intended audience" for a movie like Roll Bounce, so you can obviously take my criticisms with a grain of salt if you like, but this is one of the most amateurishly mounted movies of the year. It's got no energy, no soul, no creativity, and certainly nothing you haven't already seen a thousand times before. Roll Bounce is Saturday Night Fever meets What's Happening!!, minus the laughs and plus a whole lot of clumsy, shallow fluff.
Still, Roll Bounce might be worthy of a 99-cent rental, if only so you can witness the howlingly awful performance by Wesley Jonathan as a self-appointed roller-disco mega-lord called "Sweetness." Kid had me in tears, I swear.
Video: The film is presented in a perfectly fine anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) format.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, with optional subtitles in English and Spanish. The non-stop musical montages come through in excellent aural form.
So fascinating, so insightful, so monumental is Roll Bounce that it earns itself three separate audio commentaries. Yes I said three. Crazy, right? Track 1 is director Malcolm D. Lee by his lonesome; Track 2 is director Malcolm D. Lee with actors Bow Wow and Mike Epps; Track 3 is director Malcolm D. Lee, screenwriter Norman Vance, and producer Robert Teitel. Regarding the Roll Bounce DVD, I choose to play my semi-annual "Get Out of Commentary Free" card. Fans of the film will have to let me know what 320 minutes of Roll Bounce commentary feels like.
70s Stylin': The Look of Roll Bounce is a 4-minute featurette that focuses on the candy-coated and entirely over-realistic look of the flick, while Forward Motion: The Making of Roll Bounce is 13 minutes of precisely what it sounds like: movie clips & gushing interviews.
You'll also find 12 deleted scenes with optional commentary from director Malcolm D. Lee and his screenwriter, each of which would have only made Roll Bounce longer, and therefore more painful. Rounding out the unnecessarily overstuffed platter are some Skating Competition Newswraps, a Bow Wow Profile, a gag reel, the theatrical trailer, a soundtrack spot, and a Brooke Valentine music video. Enjoy.
Last and semi-least, Inside Look gives you a 3-minute behind-the-scenes peek at Ice Age 2: The Meltdown and a trailer for Johnny Knoxville's The Ringer. Avert your eyes for the trailers hawking Like Mike 2 and Dr. Dolittle 3. Yes, seriously.
Had the producers opted to go the comedy route, Roll Bounce might have had something. But the flick is awash in maudlin speeches, overripe sentiment, and generic platitudes. It's a production design looking for a screenplay.
Plus the skating footage, the only conceivable asset in a movie like this, pretty much stinks.