There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
It’s tough to know which of Roll Bounce’s assumptions to disbelieve more: that Bow Wow is really man enough to do without the Lil’, or that roller disco is really the way to prove it. The teen rapper plays X, an Afro-sportin’, roller-skatin’ phenom from South Side Chicago circa 1978. When the local rink shutters its doors, X and his buddies venture across the proverbial tracks to the dazzling Sweetwater Roller Rink, a fat-wheel Mecca ruled by disco demigod Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan), who naturally looks down on them underprivileged South Side boys. The requisite roller rumble ensues, but the only way to settle the score once and for all is, as J. Peterman could tell you, a dance-off. Roll Bounce is, of course, merely the latest in a long line of teen flicks that promise dance as the answer to many things: awkwardness, a troubled home life, the whole darn stacked-against-ya system. And dance may very well be the answer, though the real issue for the movie is a question: Does it aspire to be a campy satire of teen rivalries like Bring It On or a mawkish tale of boys becoming men à la The Karate Kid? Scribe Norman Vance Jr. (Beauty Shop) can’t quite decide, so his script veers wildly from one to the other: gleeful moments of retro roller fun one minute, maudlin interludes about X’s dead mother and unemployed father the next. Credit goes to director Malcolm D. Lee, then, for managing to pull these strands together in a way that more or less works. His obvious love for the ’70s and their goofy brand of grooviness helps a lot, but Lee is also aided by a cast of spirited young actors who bring genuine relish to their roles, particularly Brandon T. Jackson as X’s feisty sidekick, Junior. Jackson steals the show by making full use of the script’s lighter moments, such as when he pokes fun at X’s old roller skates by quipping that “Harriet Tubman wore those skates to skate her way to freedom!” Bow Wow may not get quite that kind of mileage out of those wheels, but he and his castmates still manage to take Roll Bounce for a mighty nice whirl. —Mario Correa