Roll Bounce capitalizes on the retro fad of the late-'70s roller-skating culture, as well as endears with its coming-of-age story. But more than anything, it somehow christens the grown up Bow Wow, the rapper/actor whose finally dropped the ''Lil'' from his name.
It's 1978, and in the suburbs of Chicago every day begins and ends at the roller-skating rinks. For X (Bow Wow) and his friends, the news that their home-base rink is going out of business is devastating. They were men amongst boys on the rink and now they're forced to try to fit in at another, more classy skating joint--the Sweetwater Roller Rink. There they must face Sweetness, Sweetwater's resident celebrity and roller-skating champion and his pirouetting entourage. Everyone except X is intimidated by this daunting obstacle. See, although everyone has it rough in their neighborhood, X's mom just died and his disapproving dad (Chi McBride) is out of work, so the rink is his only outlet. And he's pretty darn good at skating. Eventually X and his crew stand up to Sweetness, challenging him and his cast of flamboyant flunkies to a skate off. It's the moment X has been waiting for, and what he might lack in skating ability he more than makes up for in heart.
Hollywood seems to have found a remedy for the conundrum of casting the parts of precocious teens: either hire Dakota Fanning or find older actors who can look the part. But in the case of Roll Bounce, charismatic star Bow Wow is actually not too far off his character's young age. Now all grown up, the actor has the ability to grasp his character's urban attitude as well as his internal strife, involving some genuine dramatic scenes which a href=''/celebs/detail/celeb/1123746'' class=''storylinks''>Bow Wow pulls off with surprising conviction. Chi McBride--something of a hot film commodity these days but best known for his stint on TV's Boston Public--interacts convincingly with Bow Wow as X's widower-father struggling to be everything to everyone while butting heads with X on a number of issues, primarily his obsession with skating. Then there's X's posse, played with joie de vivre by a few up and coming actors. They include Khleo Thomas (Holes) as the sweet-natured Mixed Mike; Marcus T. Paulk as the shy Boo; Brandon T. Jackson as the brazen Junior; and Jurnee Smollett (Eve's Bayou) as the only girl in the bunch. The camaraderie is certainly evident.
For what it's worth, director Malcolm D. Lee is Spike Lee's cousin, who has no doubt lent a helping hand to his cousin's own flourishing career. Whereas Spike makes movies that are usually topical, Malcolm tends to make parodies of the inequalities his cousin tries to solve, which would include Malcolm's most well-known film, Undercover Brother. Accordingly, Roll Bounce is able to get away with some crude, juvenile humor because it wouldn't dare take itself too seriously. Of course, the coming-of-age story is sticky sweet and poignant, but really the best part is the roller skating sequences to the groovin' '70s disco soundtrack. Roll Bounce is all about the fun, which is achieved rather seamlessly.
Roll Bounce is a breath of fresh air, to be certain. It could've benefited by steering clear of its sappy subplot but will still offer some pleasant nostalgia for adults--and Bow Wow for the kids.