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MGM // PG-13 // August 5, 2003
List Price: $14.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 9, 2003 | E-mail the Author
"Thrashers. That sounds like vandals or juvenile delinquents...troubled youth."
"No. Thrashin', man. It's just an aggressive style of skating. You know, we thrash."
"Well, what do you thrash?"
"What do you got?"

Think Breakin' with skateboards and a similar disregard for that trailing letter 'g'. Josh Brolin is Corey Webster, an out-of-towner spending his summer months in Los Angeles...well, thrashin'. His Valley pals are the Ramp Locals, a group of inoccuous skaters who are local and have a ramp. Their arch-rivals are the ominously-named Daggers, a gang of leather-clad roughnecks who spraypaint daggers everywhere 'cause that's their name. Corey quickly finds love and romance in the City of Angels, falling for Chrissy (Pamela Gidley; Cherry 2000), who just happens to the kid sister of...:gasp!:...a Dagger. Tommy Hook doesn't take kindly to his sister dating a boy from the Valley, and it's all-out war between the Ramp Locals and the Daggers. Scorched ramps, fist fights, jousting matches, and yes, even a huge climactic race all ensue.

So, there's a lot of skateboarding. You get a sequence early on where the Daggers skate around Cali interminably like Hal Warren's countryside drive in Manos: the Hands of Fate. There's even P.O.V. skating. You never see a trick pulled off in the movie once; they're invariably repeated immediately, usually by the four or five other guys following in tow. Still, some of the camerawork is kind of neat, like one shot that follows Corey skating under a truck, and a handful of the tricks still look impressive today. The sloppy editing dulls some of the action sequences, and a few cuts seem like they were piecemealed together from entirely different movies. One of the most glaring examples is the frequently-quoted "No, you be there!" exchange (64Kbps mp3; 68.1K). Cuts like that one from Hook to Little Stevie are awkward, and many shots linger on for just a few seconds too long...there's often just not a strong sense of flow.

Thrashin' also does a lackluster job conveying how dangerous some of the more intense sequences are supposed to be. At one point, Hook and Corey square off in a skating joust, dueling with...I don't know, empty fanny packs on a chain. Could've been interesting, but the battle is very sllloooooooow, and the bags don't look like they have any weight to them at all. I don't actually expect the stars to fight to the death with real weapons, but it would've been nice if it looked like something moderately thrilling was going on. The climactic downhill race suffers in that same way. Corey prattles on to Chrissy about the speed that skaters plummet down those mountain roads, but when the big moment finally comes, the roads don't look particularly steep and the skaters don't seem to be moving all that quickly until it becomes a two-man race. There's exposition, some excessively cartoonish spin-outs by competitors at every turn (and I mean "every turn" in the literal sense), and a cop clocking one of the skaters at 63 mph to suggest that they're speeding along, but just looking at them move, the racers don't appear to be zipping along until the last couple of minutes.

But hey, that's all part of Thrashin's charm. Thrill to sterling, repetitive verbal battles like "Oh, and Corey...? You come near Chrissy again, and you're dead meat." "Oh yeah? Well, after the L.A. Massacre, you're dead meat, Hook." Burn! The cast is great, headed by Josh Brolin, fresh off The Goonies and determined to bare his abs for the entire length of the movie. David Wagner (Little Stevie) went onto pen National Lampoon's Van Wilder and snag a bit role in Saving Ryan's Privates. Josh Richman, who played Radley, had a recurring role on 21 Jump Street and later started managing the band Deadsy. Tony Hawk, Tony Alva, Steve Caballero, and a couple of other pros sneak in, and Thrashin' also marks one of Sherilyn Fenn's earlier roles on-screen. My favorite actor, though, is Brett Marx, who you might remember as Jimmy Feldman from The Bad News Bears. A few reputable sources claim he's the grandson of Gummo Marx, but I suspect he comes from a different lineage.

From Justin...  +  ...To Buddy  =  Brett Marx (Bozo)

At one point early on, a skater boasts that "Breakin' is a memory." Sure, but it's a fun, nostalgic memory, which is why Breakin' is part of the DVD collections of so many twenty-or-thirty-somethings. I think Thrashin' will appeal to people who grew up skateboarding in the '80s in the same way. Admittedly, it's not an indescribably brilliant film that'll change the way viewers look at cinema, and with impressive skateboarding footage having saturated pop culture, this older collection of footage as a whole doesn't hold up all that well. The fact that Thrashin' is flawed is part of why it's so much fun to watch. Rather than just dump Thrashin' on DVD with little thought or effort, MGM really went the extra mile, striking a new anamorphic widescreen transfer and assembling a huge pile of extras.

Video: Thrashin' sports two presentations on this single-sided, dual-layer disc -- one full-frame and the other in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. I gave the widescreen version a spin, and it looks pretty good, considering it's an eighteen year old low-budget flick. The source material is clean, exhibiting no noticeable wear and only minimal speckling. Some random shots are particularly grainy, and shadow detail in a few scattered moments is kind of murky. Colors are often bright and vibrant, though kind of dull in some sequences, including a cute-night-out montage that looks like it was lit more heavily by the stores' existing flourescent lights than the usual small army of grips. For the most part, though, Thrashin' looks pretty sharp, and I think most viewers will find it to be a solid presentation.

Audio: The Dolby Digital mono track on Thrashin' sounds dated, with both the dialogue and '80s soundtrack coming across as flat with little in the way of dynamic range. The mix of music is pretty eclectic, including a title track by Meat Loaf, a performance of Freaky Styley's "Blackeyed Blonde" by a Hillel Slovak-era Red Hot Chili Peppers (back before they wrote dreck like "Scar Tissue"), Devo, and the Circle Jerks to...whatever synth-schmaltz that plays over the big love scene. The way these songs are incorporated into the film almost sounds like a temp mix, something cobbled together by the filmmakers for work prints to show off to the studio brass. A lot of the music doesn't sound like an integral part of the soundtrack; you know, the perfect song playing at the perfect time. With Thrashin', it almost has this "well, we need a (insert genre) song here, and it should begin...oh, I don't know, here. No, maybe here. Well, I guess that's good enough." sound to it. Like some of the skateboarding sequences mentioned earlier, there's just not that sense of flow. The technical merits of the mono track itself are passable, but nothing really above or beyond that.

Thrashin' also sports a monaural French dub, closed captions, and subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.

Supplements: MGM isn't afraid to lavish some of their budget-priced catalog titles with extras. Like Killer Klowns from Outer Space before it, Thrashin' is a loaded special-edition. "Thrashin' Reunion" (6:31) reunites producer/co-writer Alan Sacks with Robert Rusler (Tommy Hook), Josh Richman (Radley), and Steve Olson (a Dagger). Rusler chats about the lifelong friends he made on-set, including oodles of skateboarding legends. Richman is draped from head to toe in black, noting he wasn't allowed to be so monochromatic on film as a Ramp Local, and he also mentions some of the on-screen flubs made by his double, Steve Caballero.

The four of them return for an audio commentary, laughing for literally the entire length of the movie. They mock the title track, Thrashin's outdated fashion, Svedish speakin', painful dialogue, mullet montages, Sherilyn Fenn's nekkidness in Two Moon Junction, Tony Hawk railing against the movie in his autobiography, the excruciatingly long and awkward love scene, Chrissy's posh ride, and director David Winters sporting cowboy boots and dolphin shorts on the set. Alan Sacks mentions at one point that Johnny Depp auditioned for Rusler's part, something that they cast found so astonishing that they apparently called Depp's girlfriend in the middle of the commentary to find out if it's actually true. If you're looking for an in-depth technical discussion, don't bother, but this is one of the most ridiculously fun commentaries I've listened to in a long, long time.

"Makin' Thrashin'" (12:26) covers a lot of topics that aren't mentioned in the commentary. Alan Sacks runs through the inspiration behind the movie, the pitch, lining up financing at Cannes, hiring a West Side Story dancer to direct, and the intense dislike for the Chili Peppers in focus groups. Co-writer Paul Brown and David "Little Stevie" Wagner also leap in with a few comments.

"Skatepark Sensations" (8:28) begins with pro skater Steve Badillo, Jesse Parker, and Brad Edwards talking about the attitude, accuracy, and influence of Thrashin'. In between lots and lots of footage of skaters at the indoor skatepark Skatelab are brief comments by its co-owner Todd Huber and producer/co-writer Alan Sacks.

Finally, there's a Devo-blasting full-frame trailer that runs just under two and a half minutes in length.

Thrashin' sports a set of 16x9-enhanced animated menus, and the movie has been divided into sixteen chapters. The only insert provided is a plug for MGM's '80s DVDs and a contest for a trip to Quintana Roo, Mexico.

Conclusion: Thrashin' is hokey skateboarding '80s fun, bringing memories of cheap decks and a closet full of Vision Street Wear shirts bubbling to the surface. Anyone who was remotely into skateboarding in the mid-'80s will probably find something to appreciate about Thrashin', and the fact that it really hasn't aged all that well only makes it even better to watch in a group. A fun movie with a small mountain of supplemental material and available online for under $9 shipped, Thrashin' is Recommended.
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