Movie review by Greg Carlson
A charming and good-natured comedy suitable for nearly all ages, “Roll Bounce” employs the familiar competition/contest formula as the framework for a nostalgic look back at the late 1970s and the popular pastime of indoor roller-skating. Anyone old enough to remember having a blast on quad-wheeled, lace-up skates will smile at the impeccable production design of “Roll Bounce’s” glitzy Sweetwater rink, a bustling bazaar of coin-op video and pinball games, spinning disco balls, smooth-talking disc jockeys, and ridiculously talented skaters. Jam-packed with well-chosen period tunes, “Roll Bounce” never quite catches fire, but it is an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.
Starring Bow Wow as Xavier “X” Smith, a Chicago teenager mourning the death of his mother, “Roll Bounce” introduces a number of memorable characters in support of the lead performer. Chi McBride plays X’s dad Curtis, a stern but loving patriarch struggling to hide his own fear and sorrow from his two children. X’s close-knit group of friends contribute to the film’s ever-present spirit of camaraderie, but it is new neighbor Tori (Jurnee Smollett), a novice skater saddled with a set of unwelcome braces, who forges a warm bond with the moody X. Despite the boys’ relentless ridiculing of her orthodontic accoutrement, Tori gives as good as she gets, and her scrappy personality makes her right at home among her new pals.
Screenwriter Norman Vance Jr. and director Malcolm D. Lee focus the majority of their attention on the family drama of X and Curtis coming to terms with their loss, but the movie never completely neglects the skating, which is always photographed and edited with pulse-quickening verve. Much of the action on the rink is dominated by X’s rival Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan), a self-confident amalgam of Prince and James Brown, whose liquid moves have dominated the annual skating contest for several years in a row. Despite his glaring two-dimensionality, Sweetness is something to see on roller skates.
“Roll Bounce” also squeezes in a tentative love interest for X, an old acquaintance named Naomi (the tremendously charismatic Meagan Good), who initially seems more than willing to give X a chance, but grows increasingly impatient with his awkward inability to manage even a couples’ skate. “Roll Bounce” falters with this storyline, never taking the time to develop Naomi’s character – which is a shame, given the welcome presence of Good. Interestingly, Tori encourages X to pursue Naomi, and the filmmakers must be commended for eschewing the predictability of a rivalry for X’s affections.
At times, “Roll Bounce” might remind viewers of episodic television, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The movie often resembles the pilot of a series, with its multiple storylines and parade of eccentric bit-players (including comical turns by Mike Epps and Charlie Murphy as sanitation workers, and Nick Cannon and Wayne Brady as roller rink employees). Additionally, the period vibe of childhood – from the sights and sounds of the Atari 2600 to the neighborhood water balloon fights – blends perfectly with the exciting skating sequences, several of which are breathtaking highlights of the movie.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 9/26/05.