Drive-In Mutants: Roller Boogie (1979)

Drive-in-MutantsEvery month we discuss some of the best and worst cult films ever made, from the hits, classics, underground, grind house, and utterly obscure, from Full Moon, and Empire, to Cannon and American International, it’s all here, minus the popcorn, and car fumes.

rollerboogieposterROLLER BOOGIE (1979)
Aliases: None
United Artists Pictures

Directed by: Mark L. Lester
Starring: Linda Blair, Jim Bray, Beverly Garland, Roger Perry

The Plot is Afoot! Terry is a classical musician and wealthy young girl who dreams of being a roller skater and disco dancer. She meets quick talking huckster Bobby James who is one of the best roller skaters in California. After seeking a chance to become a roller skater, she looks for Bobby James who begins to fall in love with Terry.

With Terry’s future in college gradually veering toward a life of music, she begins to warm up to Bobby who shows his charms. Meanwhile, the owner of a popular roller skating rink is being pushed out of his business by a crooked land developer who wants to destroy it. Terry, Bobby, and their large cavalcade of skaters team up to save their favorite hang out and compete one last time.

The Damage: It’s really charming how much confidence UA Pictures seems to place on the fad of roller disco. I’m assuming what with the implentation of the disco scene for John Badham’s “Saturday Night Fever,” I guess someone naturally assumed UA Pictures could market on that success by featuring a coming of age drama in the same vein but with roller disco. The problem with “Roller Boogie,” though is that while it aspires for bigger things, the film falls squarely in the middle of mediocrity. “Roller Boogie” is not a bad film, nor is it a terribly cheesy one like “Breakin’.” It’s merely a depiction of a dance fad that didn’t have a real staying power, and the gimmick isn’t used to tell a very compeling tale when all is said and done.

Not even Mark Lester could breathe a sense of life or energy behind his film, as it suffers from too much plot and a narrative that’s much too formulaic for a film with the pretense of originality. That’s a shame since Linda Blair is a very solid actress who can pull off the girl next door protagonist whenever she really wants to. Considering the film is more for teens, Blair never really sheds her clothing, but that doesn’t stop her from running around in tight tank tops, hot pants, and short skirts. Blair’s own sex appeal drowns out anything else the movie tries to push in terms of character or sub-plot, and she only comes out ahead slightly above everyone else. Blair is Terry, a young privileged teenager who is on her way to college.

rollerboogie1She is a gifted classical musician whose posh parents have gotten her in to an upscale college but, woe is her, she wants to be a roller disco dancer. Apparently there’s a massive population of roller disco dancers in California and on the boardwalk. They travel in packs and perform tricks for tourists while riding to their every day jobs, and Terry wants anxiously to be a part of it all. Bobby James is a fast talking hustler who is also the best roller disco dancer of them all and Terry hires him to teach her all of the best dance moves and skills.

Meanwhile, Terry wants to garner her affection and become her boyfriend while teaching her how to master dance moves on roller skates. The writers also feature a sub-plot involving Bobby’s group of friends which never has a major impact on the overall resolution of the film.

rollerboogie2The main crux of the movie is that the roller disco club Jammers is being strong armed out of business by local thugs, and the owner of the club has decided to retire. The roller disco crew want to keep it opened, though, and decide to band together to help the owner. Because disco is forever, baby! Most of the film is centered around the relationship between Terry and Bobby, and how Terry is so not your normal rich girl. She loves him, then hates him, then loves him, and then loves him more because he wants her for her body and not her money.

“Roller Boogie” wouldn’t be so bad if it managed to dig up an interesting storyline and wasn’t so concerned with being more of a safe drama comedy, with dancers suddenly banding together to save their favorite hang out and battling evil land owners. It’s such a dull premise considering there could have been so much more developed around a fascinating form of dance. Look at “Roll Bounce,” a movie about roller disco that happens to be pretty fun since it draws an interesting conflict and channels the vibe of the seventies so much better.

rollerboogie3Here it’s less about the dancing and more about Terry rebelling against her upper crest wealth family. Which contradicts the tone as a whole since Lester spends a lot of time with montages of the roller disco dancers doing what they do best. For a film a little under two hours, if director Lester didn’t spend so much time filming various dancers flipping and rolling around the film would be much more compact and easier to endure. Lester has a clear idea of how to spotlight the unique dance form, but the writers have absolutely nothing to do with it. Terry wants to rebel, then she falls for her trainer, then she teams up with the other dancers to save her favorite club and there’s a very rushed climactic dance competition. Of course Terry and Bobby win the contest easily, since the lack of minorities in this movie is more frightenin than “Hell Night,” but that’s a whole other topic altogether. If anything, at least “Roller Boogie” sports a neat disco soundtrack, including a prominent playing of “Boogie Wonderland.”

rollerboogie4Plus there’s Lester’s nigh endless footage of dancers rolling around and flipping begins to feel like a documentary, screeching any attempt at momentum with the narrative to a grinding halt. With director Mark L. Lester directing, and Blair starring, you assume we’d have an instant classic on our hands, but “Roller Boogie” isn’t anything remotely special. It’s so plainly bland and forgettable, I’d just about forgotten everything I’d seen when the credits rolled. The movie is barely at the level of “Xanadu” concerning cheese and kitsch value, which doesn’t bode well for star Blair who likely hoped this would skyrocket her as a bonafide leading lady for more youth oriented films.

It’s too bad, too, considering Blair is a solid actress with a girl next door appeal that makes her worth watching in other kinds of films that aren’t horror oriented. And let’s face it, the only reason to watch “Roller Boogie” is because of Blair who looks insanely sexy during her performance and is pretty much off the charts in hotness.

Blood: There are a few falls and stumbles and a food fight, but no blood is shed.

Boobs: There are plenty of shots of Blair rolling around in short skirts, tank tops, and her first shot on the movie features her in a negligee that shows how utterly incredible Blair looked in her prime as one of the more underrated babes of the late seventies and eighties.

Beast: The only beasts present are the thugs trying to close down the local roller rink.

The Rundown: Mark L. Lester’s goofy attempt to market on the Roller Disco craze is a very non-threatening and silly movie whose main crime is being so utterly forgettable. It’s not one of the worst movies ever made, but it also never achieves heights of cult infamy like “Xanadu” and “Staying Alive.” It’s just a brutally mediocre and middling sport drama comedy that you’ll forget about, even in spite of the incredibly vivacious Lindar Blair starring.