by Chris Parry
If you ever want to be really depressed, I'd suggest you rent The Exorcist and Roller Boogie for a back-to-back Linda Blair double feature. In that three hours or so that follows you will see Ms Blair at the height of her game, with an astounding and eery performance in the earlier film, and you'll then see what became of her seven years later, when she had developed boobs and thus found herself assigned to playing 'the one who can act' in low rent teen fluff flicks. Roller Boogie, a film about the lives and loves of those immersed in the then emerging worlds of roller skating and disco, is one of those time capsule pieces that remind you that Hollywood has always been a foul cesspool where money hungry hacks ply their trade by convincing talented people to help them make utter crap. If Roller Boogie had been released today, the only things that would need updating would be the hairstyles and the shorts. As for the rest, the hapless dance moves, the terrible dialogue, the insanely tacky score, the cliched storyline... have you *seen* the most recent J-Lo film?Terry (Linda Blair) is a rich kid who plays orchestral flute, drives a million-dollar car and occasionally likes to go roller skate on the boardwalk. On the other side of the tracks, Bobby James (Jim Bray, who has never acted before and never has since) is the local streetkid roller-hero who wins all the roller skating trophies and has designs on roller skating his way to the olympics (yes, I know roller skating isn't an Olympic sport, but such stupidities are par for the course in 70's teen movies, so let's just pretend there's an Olympic roller boogie competition and that Bobby James thinks he'll get there one day soon).
"Big hair, tight shorts, crappy skating, terrible acting. And Linda Blair."
When Bobby sets eyes on Terry it's love at first sight, but, surprisingly, she's not all that interested in his buck teeth, his blow-dried 'fro and his 'yellow too-tight short shorts with knee socks' styling. But you and I know that as soon as Bobby hits her with the patented 70's "hey beautiful lady, why don't you come make the heavens open with me in my backseat" charm, that no woman can resist becomign his sexual slave.
Or, at least, hiring him to teach her how to roller boogie so that they can win the big roller boogie contest in a few weeks.
Now, most people, should they find themselves devoid of common sense and actually decide to make dancing on roller skates their passion in life, would still at least try to engage the planet like an adult when they're not on skates. Terry, for example, might learn to skate in her spare time and continue with her music scholarship to a great college, thus setting her up for life in the way that she has, obviously, grown accustomed. But no, Terry will have none of that. She wants to abandon everything - parents, school, wealthy lifestyle - and do nothing more than BOOGIE! ... on skates.
This is the most cream-puffed piece of fad film I've seen since 1990's Lambada: The Forbidden Dance (which actually followed Joel Silberg's Lamabada, Giandomenico Curi's Lambada, Fabio Barreto's Lambada and Lorenzo Onorati's Lambada Blu as the fourth Lambada film in a year). The story is vintage 'dance movie' (hmm, see any comparisons to Dirty Dancing in the storyline?), the performances are beyond terrible (there's a reason roller skating champion Jim Bray was never asked to darken a cinema screen again, and his co-stars make him look like Gielgud), and the skating, remarkably enough for a film based on the sport, sucks ass.
One particular highlight for me is the character of Phones (played by Stoney Jackson, straight off his award-winning turn as "American Olympic Athlete in The Concorde: Airport '79). Phones has maybe two lines in the film, yet he's in nearly every scene. He's a black guy (the only black guy in the entire film, which is odd since it seesm to be set on Venice Beach) who skates with a giant 70's tape recorder in one hand, and a huge pair of white headphones clapped around his ears. His sole role in the film seems to be roll his eyes at short intervals and then go along with whatever the white folks are saying. He is, as some have called him, the ultimate 'token black guy' in the history of Hollywood movies.
Linda Blair is fine in her role, though you can see there are moments where she's hoping the sky will open up and save her from this mess. Some of the lines she's given to speak are simply awful, not even close to realistic human speech. And as for her skating... well, let's just say you can tell when it's her on the skates and when it's one of her several stunt doubles. In fact, if not for Ms Blair's gravity-proof cleavage and the occasional spark of actual acting ability, what you'd be looking at here would be nothing more than a 1979 drive-in movie, and if you've seen even one of those, you know that's no compliment.
Good films sometimes get a poor reception from the critics, but when you get an average score of 2.4/10 at the IMDB, you know your movie is nothing short of dung. Mark L. Lester, Cleveland's own answer to Cincinnati's Steven A. Spielberg, followed this film up with such seminal works as Class of 1984, Firestarter and Commando, before plunging rapidly into the world of indie straight to video crap, where he has remained to this day. One has to wonder whether he looks back with fond memories of the days he spent on Roller Boogie, or if they pale in comparison to the ones he spent directing Truck Stop Women, or Gold of the Amazon Women. Personally, I can't go past the Eric Roberts/C. Thomas Howell action classic Hitman's Run, but when you're dealing with a body of work such as that of Mark S. Lester, who knows where to begin describing the genius?
Of course, maybe I'm just being mean to a guy who is doing what he can to keep the lights on, but when you see Roller Boogie open with the words "A Mark L. Lester film", you really have to conclude that the guy actually thought he was making something the world would take note of, and not a throwaway piece of crap that would have a lifespan of about eight months before both roller skating AND disco were considered ancient history. 1980's Xanadu notwithstanding, this fad flick actually killed its subject matter off as a national movement.Good.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=10412&reviewer=1
originally posted: 10/26/04 09:52:47