Back Shelf Beauties
Set in 1978, Bow Wow (he isn't Lil' anymore) stars as Xavier - the best roller disco kid on the South Side who is about to go through one of those magical, life changing summers we always see in movies (Can you still have those at 33-years old? It would be cool, and I would have Hope Davis star in mine. THAT would change my life.). He has troubles at home as Dad Curtis, (Chi McBride), tries his best to move on from the tragedy that took away his wife (Xavier's mother) and raise his two children all by himself. Even worse, Xavier's favorite roller rink is about to close. With nowhere else to go to roller disco, the young man and his buddies head to the North Side and the fancy roller rink uptown, which is dominated by the flamboyant Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan) and his flunkies. Not to be outdone, Xavier and his pals decide to enter the big roller disco championship to show Sweetness and everyone at the skating rink they are just as good.
Will Xavier win the dance off? What is bothering Curtis? Can he and Xavier start to love each other again?
Roll Bounce wants to be everything, but the mish mash of styles and tones yields a movie that falls short of its potential. Director Malcolm Lee can't seem to make up his mind as to whether Roll Bounce is a heartwarming, after school special about a kid, his love for roller disco, the mother who lives in his memories and the father trying to do what's right for the family or if the movie is a crazy teen romp full of ridiculous, larger than life characters, the girl of his dreams, and the wacky hijinks he and his buddies get caught up in. Either one could have been a fine direction for the movie, but Lee has the two tones competing for too much screen time and our appreciation for either one to work.
Lee does a good job capturing the drama of Xavier's ultimate showdown with Sweetness, but doesn't do a wonderful job developing all of the subplots and characters. Xavier's posse comes off like the Cosby Kids without the charm as each pal is one-dimensional and lacks the kind of dialogue we need to appreciate them and get to know each one as more than a one note joke. Writer Norman Vance Jr. has a subplot about Xavier and a young lady he reconnects with at the North Side roller rink, but we never get a good idea of what happened in the past or how much they felt for each other before something drove them apart. Even some of the more dramatic scenes simply happen without much build up, like a fight between Xavier and his father, which was more melodramatic than moving.
Roll Bounce survives because of Bow Wow and McBride. Both have great ability to add depth to their characters, as Bow Wow has that wide-eyed wonder of a young man pursuing a dream, and McBride portrays a strong father with moral authority and a love for his children on his side. More than any other actor in the film, McBride would have benefited from a stronger story, especially more information about his past relationship with the deceased wife.
Roll Bounce is almost passable, but could have been so much better.
Note: Fox Searchlight has pledged to dedicate 10% of the movies opening weekend proceeds to Operation USA - a non-profit Los Angeles-based disaster relief agency aiding those displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Additionally, the movie will be screened free via Direct TV for 80 shelters in the Gulf Coast area.
2 Waffles (Out Of 4)
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