If you were a junior-higher back in the day, the day being the '70s and early '80s, then your idea of a hot Saturday night was hanging out at the local roller rink. There weren't too many opportunities for tweeners to get their groove on, and the rink provided the perfect stage for trying out grown-up mating rituals while spinning around and around and around the polished floor.
With "Roll Bounce," director Malcolm Lee (cousin of Spike) uses sepia-washed photography, fist combs stuck in splendiferous Afros, plaid bell-bottoms, split-level ranch houses and old-school R&B and rock to capture that time. He gets the details right, from the insult-a-thons to the preening and posturing of polyester-clad lotharios to the angst of young love. And for the most part, he got the cast right, with rapper Bow Wow as X, a young Chicago teenager with a jones for skating, and the sturdy Chi McBride as his widowed father (though supporting players Khleo Thomas, Rick Gonzalez and Jurnee Smollett prove much stronger, more natural actors than Bow Wow).
What Lee doesn't pull off is the story: The film can't get its rhythms right, fluctuating wildly between comedy and pathos, and can't decide if it's a coming-of-age comedy along the lines of the 1975 classic "Cooley High," also set in Chicago, or a cloying family melodrama. It's at its best when it confines the action to the rink and the drama to the burning question of whether or not X can stay on his feet while busting some fancy moves in the annual skate-off.
-- Teresa Wiltz