ROCKERS -- At the Inner Circle.
"Love to one and all . . . Liberate fully everywhere . . ."
We are not in a time warp but in the mountians of Jamaica. A ganja -smiking Rastafarian, owner of the longest dreadlocks hairstyle you ever saw, is earnestly spouting the cliches that sprang from the lips of American kids a decade ago, while a reggaae band plays softly in the background.
Welcome to peace and love, Jamacian-style.
But "Rockers," Theodoros Bafaloukos' great new movie about the Jamacia tourists never see, is not a drug-soaked paean to mindlessness, nor is it a tragic tale like the "other" reggae movie, "The Harder They Come." Like the 1973 classic, "Rockers" tells the story of the black Jamacian counterculture. But this time our hero is a survivor. Surrounded by hostility and exploited on all sides, Horsey and his pals don't give up -- they get even.
Leroy "Horsemouth" Wallace is an unlikely hero, a hustler who's known as the best drummer on the island but still can't earn enough to make ends meet. In addition to cutting records he sells them to shops, driving around the countryside on his red motorcycle. He also plays in a band at a posh resort hotel, and in his spare time makes the scene at local nightclubs. A busy man, our Horsemouth -- but never too busy to stop by the old homestead from time to time to change outfits, pat the kids on the head and talk to his woman, Madgie, out of some more money.
Somewhere along the line he stops off at a street dance, which leads us to the immediate problem -- his bike is stolen by Mafia men, and against their organized might the situation seems hopeless. The plot builds and builds, leading to a witty, nonviolent and, above all, entertaining conclusion.
Along the way we're treated to fascinating vignettes of reggae life: the bustling recording studios, crowded slum dwellings, dusty back roads dotted with ramshackle record shops, tattered alley kids miraculously transformed into neatly uniformed school-children during the week.Tourists are seen from a perspective that will make U.S. audiences cringe ("It's a kind of calypso music" a jewelry-laden American babbles to her friends as Horsemouth's band plays away at their ritzy hotel).
Director Bafaloukos, using a cast of novices and filming entirely on location, wisely lets the Rastas spin out their own story. It's got its annoying aspects. Like many religious fanatics, Horsey doesn't worry himself with food, clothes, money or other "vanities," believing that "Jah will provide." It's easy for him to say -- Madgie's the one who has to feed their kids.
As in "The Harder They Come," the reggae music -- formerly known as ska, now called rockers -- is integral to the story, and the score, featuring songs by such artists as Peter Tosh, Junior Mervin and Bunny Wailer, keeps things moving right along. Add the entertaining story and travelogue element, combined with Bafaloukos' sensitivity and insight, and "Rockers" enters the must-see category.