Roll Bounce

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Roll Bounce comes courtesy of Malcolm Lee, a once-promising young filmmaker who struck out on his own following a brief apprenticeship with his cousin, Spike. In 1999, he made quite a splash with a sensational directorial debut, The Best Man, an ensemble drama revolving around a bourgie, battle-of-the-sexes among a clique of college grads reunited in New York City for a wedding. A few years later, his Undercover Brother, a retro comedy set in the Seventies, was just as well-received, leaving the wunderkind heaped with both critical acclaim and commercial success.

Understandably, then, expectations were high for Lee’s third flick, which is why Roll Bounce might be the biggest disappointment of the year. Besides taking place in 1978 and featuring another expanded cast, this picture bears little resemblance to either of his earlier offerings.

The film stars Bow Wow as Xavier Curtis Smith or “X�, the 14 year-old ringleader of a rag-tag, roller skating team from the South Side of Chicago. The formulaic front story has this posse of poor boys venturing to the city’s upscale North Side after their local rink closes. When they arrive at swanky Sweetwater’s, their shabby outfits and outdated gear are ridiculed by their relatively well-off cross-town rivals, led by a trash-talking, ladies man nicknamed Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan).
Predictably, rather than by resorting to violence, the gangs decide to settle their differences by competing in the annual Roller Jam Skate-Off. But because this familiar underdogs overcoming-the-odds premise is set up in the first five minutes of the movie, this leaves about two hours of celluloid to fill. Unfortunately, the overambitious script throws in far more subplots than the audience cares to keep track of.

For instance, X has two potential love interests, Toni (Jurnee Smollett), a tomboy with braces who has just moved in next-door, and Naomi (Meagan Good), a blossoming who Sweetness also has his eye on. Then, there are several sidebars having to do with the fact that X’s mother died less than a year ago. His baby sister is still having nightmares, his father (Chi McBride) is unmotivated and unemployed, and X is just angry at the world. The Smith family should consider itself lucky that Toni’s scantily-clad, sexy mom (Kellita Smith) likes kids and is on the make, having been abandoned by her husband for a white woman.

Worse than this dizzying array of plot twists is the dumb dialogue which has its characters incessantly exchanging insults, even with friends, implying that they know no other way of conversing. For some reason, teasing people about their skin color and ethnicity has become a big theme of brainless black comedies like this. So, it is repeatedly pointed out that Mixed Mike (Khleo Thomas) is half-black and half-white, and he is derided as an “albino punk� although, curiously, his Caucasian mom is considered okay, because she has a black woman’s body.� Asians are fair game, so they become the subject of stale karate jokes.

Females fare the worst in this film, with the tone being set early on when a teenager complains about unwanted touching when X, who she doesn’t know, squeezes her hiney. Instead of apologizing, he laughs it off, and has all of his homeys take a turn at rubbing her buttocks, too, as if her feelings don’t matter because her purpose is to pleasure males. It is sad that this misogynistic message, a staple of gangsta’ rap videos, is spilling over into African-American cinema.

On another occasion, X kisses a girl who doesn’t want to be kissed, and then he walks away congratulating himself for getting away with another sexual assault without any consequences. Throughout the film, Toni is tortured mercilessly about her braces, as “Heavy Metal,� “Chompers,� and elsewhat.

In Roll Bounce, homosexuals are called “Fruity,â€? Black children are “Niggers,â€? dark-skinned people are “Skidmarks,â€? the gainfully-employed are “Uncle Toms,â€? and kinky hair is “bad,â€? because, as one character explains,  “Chicks only go for the good hair, not your naps.â€? And Africa is equated with the primitive, with lines like, “Put some clothes on. This ain’t Africa.â€? Black Americans are portrayed as borderline retarded by dialogue suggesting that they don’t understand what words like “indefinitelyâ€? mean.

To add insult to injury, Roll Bounce unfolds like one long Pepsi ad, with dialogue extolling the cola’s virtues and placements of the product being prominent in virtually every scene. Trust me, I could continue ad infinitum with this litany of complaints about this disgraceful exercise in dehumanization, but I think I’ll rest my case, since I’ve already given this trash far more attention than it deserves. My only hope is that Malcolm Lee will give me an interview, because I’d love to hear what he has to say in his own defense.

Poor (0 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity,
underage sexuality, non-stop misogyny,
crude humor and ethnic slurs.
Running time: 112 minutes
Distributor: Fox Searchlight

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