Hey, I won’t lie, I admit I wrote off “Roll Bounce” since the first trailer, and I didn’t even consider it would be a remotely watchable film, only because it looked like a complete replica of “Drumline”. But, when I began watching this, I realized I’d written it off unfairly. “Roll Bounce” is an admittedly cheesy, but utterly entertaining film that takes place in the fleeting period of disco, and roller disco. For those of you who have no idea what either of these things are you’re an idiot, but in simpler terms, roller disco was the fad you see on screen, and it was huge. “Roll Bounce” captures the essence of this fad with sheer charisma, while serving the kitsch and fantasy value of “Grease” and I had a lot of fun. Lee’s films is a lot like “You Got Served” except watchable, with a brain in its head, and actually exciting dance sequences about a young roller skater from the suburbs who goes to the roller rink with his friends every weekend.
But when their neighborhood rink closes down, they’re forced to go to the upper class suburbs and skate there. Problem is, there’s a rival group of skaters whom want to challenge them, and they’re prepared to stand up for themselves. Sure, the plot sounds cliché, and it is, but sometimes the parts of the whole outweigh the sum of the whole, and “Roll Bounce” won me over because its undeniable energy, and exuberance that I couldn’t help but like. With some solid characterization, and hilarious performances, the cast, including Xavier’s friends all have their own personalities and they jump off the screen in to memorable performances. Particularly Chi McBride who is very likable as the single dad Curtis who is struggling to find work, while keeping his children in line. McBride takes a one-dimensional role and turns it in to a multi-layered presence.
The characters are very realistic and engaging as they constantly insult each other, and bicker almost incessantly, and Lee takes advantage of the cast’s talents throwing in hilarious plot devices, like the neighborhood kids’ journey to shoot down Xavier with water balloons, and Naps’ (Rick Gonzalez) struggle to fit in spite of being Hispanic. With incredible choreography by Kishaya Dudley, “Roll Bounce” succeeds in pulling off entertaining dance numbers accompanied by a fantastic soundtrack of disco, disco, and more disco. I have to give credit to the producers to actually opt for genuine disco music instead of hip hop, or terrible remakes just to appeal to its target demographic. Everyone from Kool and the Gang, Donna Summer, and the Bee Gees are heard here, and it’s difficult not to sing along.
The film had me watching simply because I’m a sucker for coming of age films that thrive on nostalgia, and “Roll Bounce” gets it right, especially since Lee actually pulls in a solid job of directing. The film’s entire camera work remains average, up until the climax with the big skate off competition, and then he thrives on swooping wide angles, quick editing, and scrolling split screens that increase the sheer energy of the finale. I had fun, and I was surprised. Unfortunately, writer Vance Jr. never really wrote a cliché that he never liked, which is why “Roll Bounce” was so utterly cheesy to watch. There’s the predictable father-son dynamic, the fact that their mom died and can’t get over her, the father’s inevitable romance, the dad who thinks his son is wasting his life, the inevitable dance competition, the inevitable result of said competition, and worst of all, the “slow clap”.
The Slow clap is quite possibly the stupidest film device I’ve ever witness, and “Roll Bounce” uses said tired device to such a lame effect, it’s a shame Vance couldn’t have taken a page from “Rocky” and explored the climax with more flair and grace. “Roll Bounce” is an utterly formulaic experience, thus it ruined any chances of catching me by surprise. Meanwhile, we’re also subjected to a very forced romance between our main character and his love interest (Meagan Good) who kind of likes him but then realizes she really likes him during the competition (Yawn!), and there’s even more forced drama as the film sometimes forces the dead mother sub-plot down our throats gauging us for tears. And, yet again, Mike Epps plays the same old character he’s played in “The Honeymooners”, “Next Friday”, and so on.
I could never figure out why exactly Lee felt the need to cast him when he’s only a forgettable side character, but apparently some people still think he’s funny. I don’t. Essentially, “Roll Bounce” has many flaws in terms of plot, drama, and utterly unnecessary sub-plots, and Lee doesn’t forget to shamelessly include as many clichés as possible. But I had a lot of fun, and in the end, the entertainment value toppled the flaws by a mile. With a fantastic soundtrack, top notch choreography, a fun story, and a great climax, I enjoyed it in all its cheesiness.