Rapper-turned-thespian Bow Wow (“Like Mike”) leads a charming cast of Hollywood newcomers and veterans in the flawed, but passable coming-of-age comedy “Roll Bounce.” The film, set during the ’70s when the Bee Gees and roller-skating were cool, conjures up disco nostalgia with groovy music, roller rinks and bellbottoms.
“Roll Bounce” follows a simple plot explored in many other teenage-driven movies: A group of talented and underprivileged kids compete against snobs. This time around, Bow Wow’s Xavier and his group of cronies are forced to roller bounce to the glossy Sweetwater Skating Rink after their neighborhood roller paradise is closed. Here we find knock-off villains: skinny heartthrob Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan, TV’s “What I Like About You”) and his two annoying henchmen. But Xavier and his boys (led by the charismatic Brandon T. Jackson, “8 Mile”) are more than typical underdogs and pack a humorous punch that balances out the cheese. The tension leads to one of the lamest dance-offs ever, but, thankfully, much of the film takes place outside of the rink.
With a ’70s backdrop, it’s surprising how much more enjoyable “Roll Bounce” is compared to the similar, but embarrassingly bad, “You Got Served.” Although it becomes obvious that many of the young actors are imitating ’70s TV shows and movies, it’s still genuinely fun watching them do it. In between the momma jokes and skating formations, “Roll Bounce” becomes an infectious and sometimes heartwarming film. Bow Wow displays some definite dramatic potential with actor Chi McBride (“Boston Public”). The play their roles well, a father and son reeling from the loss of a beloved wife and mother. Equally sweet are the performances of Megan Good and Jurnee Smollett (“Eve’s Bayou”) playing the love interest and tomboy, respectively.
“Roll Bounce” never quite captures the era the way Spike Lee’s “Crooklyn” did, but it’s not really the fault of the actors so much as the screenplay. “Roll Bounce’s” dialogue has all the complexity of an Ashlee Simpson ballad, and no one is affected more than poor Rick Gonzalez. The up-and-coming “Coach Carter” scene-stealer is not only reduced to a minor supporting role, but is given some of the worst lines in the entire film.
“Roll Bounce” also offers lackluster dance sequences, primarily because of its noticeable use of body doubles. Even more distressing is the film’s attempt at complex racial humor that comes off more awkward than amusing.
It’s actually hard not to like Bow Wow’s new movie, but it just misses the mark. With talent and disco nostalgia behind it, the film has all the ingredients to be a successful movie, but it never quite finds itself. “Roll Bounce” is best when the actors are simply allowed to have a good time on the skating rink to the backdrop of the film’s amazing soundtrack. If only that were good enough.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars