Exuberant reminder of the good old days

MovieReview B

September 23, 2005|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,Sun Movie Critic

Audiences looking for movies aimed at African-Americans, but not mired in the mean streets where Hollywood usually relegates its black characters, need look no further than Roll Bounce, a frothy, nostalgia-tinged look at being young and finding all the happiness you need in a pair of roller skates and a bunch of good friends.

Bow Wow, old enough to drop the Lil' from his name but still young enough to look cool on roller skates, is Xavier, better known as X, a kid from Chicago's South Side growing up in the early '80s and living to show off at the local rink. But when rough times force it to close, he and his pals must shift their base of operations to the city's more affluent North Side, where they are immediately looked down upon as foreign invaders barely worthy of contempt.

This doesn't really bother X and his buds all that much; they just want to skate. But when the big skate-off is announced, including prize money they all sure could use, the guys start getting serious, and getting noticed.

Of course, there is a rival group of skaters, in this case led by a kid who goes by the name Sweetness. Of course, the competition ends in a big showdown between the established champs and the spirited newcomers. And, of course, this being a movie centering on teen boys, relationships become strained when girls start entering the picture. Jurnee Smollett is especially winning as the braces-sporting tomboy who takes a liking to X.

All this plays out with a refreshing earnestness and a welcome sweetness; the kids here, black and white, are just kids, not nascent gangsters or pimp wannabes or drug runners-in-training. The pressures these kids face are the pressures of adolescence, not of growing up in a dangerous world ready to eat them alive.

Still, the skate-off is not the only pressure X faces. His recently widowed dad, played with great sympathy and strength by Chi McBride, has - unbeknown to his son - lost his engineering job, yet still leaves for work every day in a suit, so scared is he of seeming a failure to his remaining family. When X does find out, the sparks fly in a confrontation between father and son that may be amped-up a little too much for its own good but still has the ring of truth to it. Bow Wow and McBride play off each other well, making their scenes emotional without turning them maudlin.

Roll Bounce earns few points for originality, but scads for good-hearted exuberance. If its values, as well as its music, seem decidedly retro, then praise be that someone remembers the good old days.

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

Roll Bounce (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Starring Bow Wow, Chi McBride.

Directed by Malcolm D. Lee.

Rated PG-13.

Time 107 minutes

Review B

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