Director Malcolm Lee (forever to be known as Spike’s cousin) and writer Norman Vance take us back to the late 1970s roller-disco craze for Roll Bounce the latest in the string of films from producers Robert Teitel and George Tillman Jr. Teitel and Tillman Jr., who have given us Men of Honor, Soul Food, Barbershop and its spinoffs are intent on delivering a new type of “black” film that is almost the antithesis of the blaxploitation because they lack the exaggerated violence and profanity and because they show African-Americans, and African-American men in particular, as positive role models. Superfly is a classic film, but do we really want or need to be encouraging anyone to grow up to be a cocaine dealer? Instead, Teitel and Tillman Jr. deliver movies where the heroes can be held up as role models.
That is a good thing and one of the many positives about Roll Bounce, a fun film with great music. It stars Bow Wow as Xavier (Like Mike) and Chi McBride as Curtis, as son and father living on the South Side of Chicago. McBride’s “Curtis” is an engineer who has lost his job, along with his wife. Xavier is his son and he has two major issues. One is his inability to communicate with his father about the loss of his mother and the other is the loss of his favorite place on Earth — the skating rink where he and his four friends ruled the floor.
The alternative is to skate at a Northside rink where the best skater around is “Sweetness” (Wesley Jonathan) and he and his crew win the annual Skate-Off and its $500 prize with regularity, or to not skate at all. Not skating is not an option and soon Xavier and his buddies “Junior”, “Naps”, “Boo” and “Mixed Mike” are on the other side of the tracks, skating and trying to have fun and finding obstacles in their path at every turn. Of course there is confrontation and that will lead to the expected face-off in the “Skate-Off”, and while it is paid off by director Lee with style and flair, the predictable outcome cannot help but be anticlimactic.
Lee has managed to recreate the “air” of the era, although there are some notable gaffes, like nutritional wrappers on ice-cream and light-up wheels on skates, things that didn’t exist at the time. The music is also perfectly suited for the settings, matched to the moment as though a committee of 1970s-era roller disco DJs and radio Music Directors met and helped to choose the songs to go with the settings.
RollBounce will not win any Academy awards, it won’t top any critic’s lists of the best films of the year and it will not top the box office list for even one weekend. Does any of that matter? I don’t think so. It’s a good movie. It has good role models and positive images, and it was fun to watch and experience. Do we have to have more than that? The answer is a resounding no!