Title: Roll Bounce
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
Screenwriters: Norman Vance Jr.
Starring: Shad Moss, Nick Cannon, Meagan Good
Yes, it’s You Got Served on roller skates. I guess. Sort of. But the fact is that I only managed to make it through half of You Got Served on DVD but cheerfully sat through the entirety of Roll Bounce, which is high-spirited, well-acted, and even a bit more substantive than I could have anticipated. Surely it could have been better, but the very fact that I can point out specific improvements rather than mentally throwing the entire thing off a bridge is, to me, an indication of an inordinate amount of effort put into a project like this.
Overwhelmingly, this is your classic underdog story, though the screenplay breaks with tradition by not giving the underdog any significant handicaps. Xavier (Bow Wow), affectionately known as X, is a perfectly normal, perfectly likable teenager from Chicago’s Southside in the summer of 1976. The opening scene has him playing the star of the local roller rink, alone on the skating floor in fantasy; later, we learn of a sad loss in his life — his mother died, though we don’t learn how until later — and watch as his summer is seemingly destroyed with the closing of the rink where he and his friends spend their days.
The rest of the plot has X and his posse invading the snobby, wealthy Sweetwater Roller Rink, at first reluctantly, with several of them reluctant to venture into territory where they don’t belong, but then aggressively, after they become determined to win the “skate-off” and take home the 500 dollar prize. There’s a flamboyant villain (Wesley Jonathan) and a love interest (Meagan Good), though the latter is an example of movie characters choosing an attractive but vapid target when an equally attractive but much more interesting one (played here by Jurnee Smollett) is right in front of them, simply because the screenplay dictates that the latter be the Sidekick.
But then, X has a tearful and surprisingly brutal confrontation with his father (the great Chi McBride) over the latter’s reaction to his wife’s death, and you’d expect it to end in the quarrelers collapsing into a hug, but you might be surprised. Dad, meanwhile, has been laid off from his job as an engineer, and spends his days looking for new employment, encountering humiliation after humiliation. It culminates in the college graduate applying to become a “quality control engineer;” upon learning that this is code for “janitor,” he asks “how much does it pay?”
It’s true that the inevitable reconciliation between X and his dad takes far too long, with far too much dialogue that goes in circles and repeats itself. It’s true, too, that dad’s job search never pays off, strictly speaking, and the plot thread remains hanging in mid-air. But even if everything doesn’t quite tie together the way one would like, the presence of these elements contributes immeasurably to these characters’ identities and to the way we respond to the main story. The movie admirably takes its time with this stuff, and it made me that much more willing to indulge its sillier pursuits.
So I suppose it says something that I was genuinely disappointed at the end of the film, when Roll Bounce had the perfect ending in its grasp, and let it slip away in favor of tiresome convention. I wanted the film to go farther; to knock one out of the park. No such luck, but I liked it anyway. It managed to keep me along for the ride.