4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

The disco roller-boogie film that introduced audiences to Patrick Swayze

Skatetown, U.S.A., Roller Boogie, Roll Bounce

Skatetown, U.S.A.: where Maureen McCormick, Greg Bradford, and Scott Baio roll.
Skatetown, U.S.A.: where Maureen McCormick, Greg Bradford, and Scott Baio roll.

The movies’ one glorious footnote to disco roller-boogie can be found in Peter Bogdanovich’s awfully romantic comedy They All Laughed, wherein a klutzy John Ritter attempts to skate his way into Dorothy Stratten’s heart. That’s just five minutes carved into a feature. This trio devotes entire running times to the service of the boogie wonderlands they beget! Our brief journey through what could be the most violently insane fad this side of a mechanical bull begins where cinema dead ends: Skatetown, U.S.A.

Skatetown, U.S.A. (1979)

Never once having donned a pair of skates, my major fascination with the genre is purely fetishistic, with a minor in the phenomenology of disco skating on film. The cast reads like a Love Boat boarding list: Scott Baio, Maureen McCormick, Flip Wilson (and Geraldine), Ron Pallilo (John Travolta disco’d his way to fame, while his fellow Sweathog got the cracked end of the mirrored ball), Ruth Buzzi, Judy Landers, Sandra Gould (Bewitched’s Mrs. Kravitz II), etc. This isn’t so much a movie as it is a series of skate routines and performance footage (how did Traffic’s Dave Mason fall in with this company?) separated by skits and bare-bones dialogue exchanges. The movie introduced audiences to Patrick Swayze, and the viewer may admit to going slack-jawed at the sight of a stunt performer roller skating on a skateboard. Billy Barty as a chick-magnet and the constant reminder of Leonard Barr prattling at the snack bar were definite mood elevators, but Murray Langston’s dual role as both the Unknown Comic and a pill peddler took twice the amount of screen time to wring not one single laugh. Long unavailable, a barebones blu-ray finally made it to home video in 2019. Rejoice!

Roller Boogie (1979)

Somewhere in my DVD vault, filed alphabetically by director between LEONE, SERGIO and LESTER, RICHARD, lurks a copy of Roller Boogie, Mark Lester’s ode to disco skating and the loss of Linda Blair’s baby fat. By the time of its release two months after Skatetown, U.S.A. the disco skating craze had already faded from sight. All that was left for audiences to do was sit back and have a good laugh.

Forget about Terry (Blair) attending Julliard. All our prodigious virtuoso flutist wants is to win the Roller Boogie contest, if for no other reason than the pampered teen’s longing to get even with her well-providing but emotionally blank parents Roger (Roger Perry) and Lillian Barkley (veteran character actress and hotelier Bevery Garland). Hers is an All-American family: Dad pays the bills while Mom returns from a busy day’s shopping to down her Valium and Quaaludes with a glass of milk. The four-car garage houses a pair of Rolls, one Mercedes, and the Excalibur SSK that Terry parks unattended at the pier’s free lot. As alluring as her lifestyle is, it’s nothing compared to the seductive power of Dean Cundey’s (Halloween, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Walking With the Enemy) camera crane playing Pied Piper to a conga line of skaters avalanching its way up Venice Beach.

Bobby (Jim Bray, a real-life champion whizzer making his one big screen appearance) is instantly smitten by Terry. Not wanting to be seen as just another rink skater from Beverly Hills, Terry offers $10 an hour in exchange for teaching her how to dance on skates. Unlike Marcia Brady in Skatetown, U.S.A., Blair did a lot of her own skating.

I was fortunate (crazy?) enough to see it three times on its initial release. The sound of audience laughter still rings in my ears at the thought of Terry’s stoically spoken, “So what. I’m a musical genius. What a drag! What a bummer!” The climactic chase and the ensuing 50-skater pileup was met with cheers. Mark Goddard (Lost in Space) showed up briefly as a mobster looking to take control of the rink. And it’s a good thing the unenterprising script called for one of the kids to accidentally press the record button on his boombox just in time to capture a confession.

If you’re as easily amused as I am, and have a high tolerance for dopey films that bring together beautiful but fatuous characters and force them to work out the problems of their lives through song and dance (Lambada, the Forbidden Dance, From Justin to Kelly, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, anything with Step Up in its title) you can’t go wrong with Roller Boogie.

Roll Bounce (2005)

A milestone in film history, if for no other reason than the way Bow-Wow dropped the Lil’ from his name, presumably because he was tired of being called “Lillian.” Bow-Wow stars as Xavier, a teen roller crestfallen when his neighborhood skating emporium closes. Along with his merry band of “welfare rollers,” who all act and sound exactly like teens did in the ‘70s, Xavier takes his battered skates (so old that Harriet Tubman wore them) to the upper-crust Sweetwater rink. The arena plays home to superstar Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan), who glides supreme with his backup skaters, an all-male version of Denny Terrio’s Motion. Outclassed by both Sweetness’ skill with a skate key and his Jiffy-Pop Afro, Xavier will have to hike up his disco balls in order to become the champ.

Meagan Good’s Naomi adds romantic spice and Bow-Wow’s appeal is not strictly for the dogs. And if such a thing is to be believed, the filmmakers actually manage to tamp down Nick Cannon! The most pleasant surprise was Jurnee Smollett’s charming, natural performance as Tori, the wobbly rollergirl with a tin-grin. Instead of playing it bitchy, Tori supported Xavier even when he chose Tyra Banks-clone Naomi over her. She’s secure enough to know that once the braces come off, she’ll have her pick of the four-wheeling clique.

The period recreation is hit and miss. Sansabelt slacks, polyester leisure suits, and a vintage Pepsi can for Naomi to seductively pull from are perfectly replicated. Vanity plates and nutrition facts on Good Humor bars are a few years premature. One constant element of the genre that Roll Bounce manages to freshen up is the parental figure at odds with their kid’s love of the rink. Chi McBride plays Dad, and his scenes opposite the rebellious Xavier add a touch of emotional weight to counterbalance the silliness.

Director Malcolm Lee had been MIA for the three years following Undercover Brother, the blaxploitation answer to Austin Powers that is hipper and funnier than all three of Mike Meyers’ films combined. Lee’s eye for widescreen composition is complimented by steadicam virtuoso James Muro. Muro apprenticed on dozens of ‘A’ pictures (Casino, Terminator 2, L. A. Confidential) and his confidence with the floating camera brought a fluidity of movement to the film’s numerous skating scenes. Set one year prior to the release of both aforementioned archetypes, this rink redux was yet another happy reminder of the enduring spirit of ‘70s cinema.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

Blue Line trolley to Nobel Drive to Poki One N Half

This is the start of a whole new way to see the county
Skatetown, U.S.A.: where Maureen McCormick, Greg Bradford, and Scott Baio roll.
Skatetown, U.S.A.: where Maureen McCormick, Greg Bradford, and Scott Baio roll.

The movies’ one glorious footnote to disco roller-boogie can be found in Peter Bogdanovich’s awfully romantic comedy They All Laughed, wherein a klutzy John Ritter attempts to skate his way into Dorothy Stratten’s heart. That’s just five minutes carved into a feature. This trio devotes entire running times to the service of the boogie wonderlands they beget! Our brief journey through what could be the most violently insane fad this side of a mechanical bull begins where cinema dead ends: Skatetown, U.S.A.

Skatetown, U.S.A. (1979)

Never once having donned a pair of skates, my major fascination with the genre is purely fetishistic, with a minor in the phenomenology of disco skating on film. The cast reads like a Love Boat boarding list: Scott Baio, Maureen McCormick, Flip Wilson (and Geraldine), Ron Pallilo (John Travolta disco’d his way to fame, while his fellow Sweathog got the cracked end of the mirrored ball), Ruth Buzzi, Judy Landers, Sandra Gould (Bewitched’s Mrs. Kravitz II), etc. This isn’t so much a movie as it is a series of skate routines and performance footage (how did Traffic’s Dave Mason fall in with this company?) separated by skits and bare-bones dialogue exchanges. The movie introduced audiences to Patrick Swayze, and the viewer may admit to going slack-jawed at the sight of a stunt performer roller skating on a skateboard. Billy Barty as a chick-magnet and the constant reminder of Leonard Barr prattling at the snack bar were definite mood elevators, but Murray Langston’s dual role as both the Unknown Comic and a pill peddler took twice the amount of screen time to wring not one single laugh. Long unavailable, a barebones blu-ray finally made it to home video in 2019. Rejoice!

Roller Boogie (1979)

Somewhere in my DVD vault, filed alphabetically by director between LEONE, SERGIO and LESTER, RICHARD, lurks a copy of Roller Boogie, Mark Lester’s ode to disco skating and the loss of Linda Blair’s baby fat. By the time of its release two months after Skatetown, U.S.A. the disco skating craze had already faded from sight. All that was left for audiences to do was sit back and have a good laugh.

Forget about Terry (Blair) attending Julliard. All our prodigious virtuoso flutist wants is to win the Roller Boogie contest, if for no other reason than the pampered teen’s longing to get even with her well-providing but emotionally blank parents Roger (Roger Perry) and Lillian Barkley (veteran character actress and hotelier Bevery Garland). Hers is an All-American family: Dad pays the bills while Mom returns from a busy day’s shopping to down her Valium and Quaaludes with a glass of milk. The four-car garage houses a pair of Rolls, one Mercedes, and the Excalibur SSK that Terry parks unattended at the pier’s free lot. As alluring as her lifestyle is, it’s nothing compared to the seductive power of Dean Cundey’s (Halloween, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Walking With the Enemy) camera crane playing Pied Piper to a conga line of skaters avalanching its way up Venice Beach.

Bobby (Jim Bray, a real-life champion whizzer making his one big screen appearance) is instantly smitten by Terry. Not wanting to be seen as just another rink skater from Beverly Hills, Terry offers $10 an hour in exchange for teaching her how to dance on skates. Unlike Marcia Brady in Skatetown, U.S.A., Blair did a lot of her own skating.

I was fortunate (crazy?) enough to see it three times on its initial release. The sound of audience laughter still rings in my ears at the thought of Terry’s stoically spoken, “So what. I’m a musical genius. What a drag! What a bummer!” The climactic chase and the ensuing 50-skater pileup was met with cheers. Mark Goddard (Lost in Space) showed up briefly as a mobster looking to take control of the rink. And it’s a good thing the unenterprising script called for one of the kids to accidentally press the record button on his boombox just in time to capture a confession.

If you’re as easily amused as I am, and have a high tolerance for dopey films that bring together beautiful but fatuous characters and force them to work out the problems of their lives through song and dance (Lambada, the Forbidden Dance, From Justin to Kelly, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, anything with Step Up in its title) you can’t go wrong with Roller Boogie.

Roll Bounce (2005)

A milestone in film history, if for no other reason than the way Bow-Wow dropped the Lil’ from his name, presumably because he was tired of being called “Lillian.” Bow-Wow stars as Xavier, a teen roller crestfallen when his neighborhood skating emporium closes. Along with his merry band of “welfare rollers,” who all act and sound exactly like teens did in the ‘70s, Xavier takes his battered skates (so old that Harriet Tubman wore them) to the upper-crust Sweetwater rink. The arena plays home to superstar Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan), who glides supreme with his backup skaters, an all-male version of Denny Terrio’s Motion. Outclassed by both Sweetness’ skill with a skate key and his Jiffy-Pop Afro, Xavier will have to hike up his disco balls in order to become the champ.

Meagan Good’s Naomi adds romantic spice and Bow-Wow’s appeal is not strictly for the dogs. And if such a thing is to be believed, the filmmakers actually manage to tamp down Nick Cannon! The most pleasant surprise was Jurnee Smollett’s charming, natural performance as Tori, the wobbly rollergirl with a tin-grin. Instead of playing it bitchy, Tori supported Xavier even when he chose Tyra Banks-clone Naomi over her. She’s secure enough to know that once the braces come off, she’ll have her pick of the four-wheeling clique.

The period recreation is hit and miss. Sansabelt slacks, polyester leisure suits, and a vintage Pepsi can for Naomi to seductively pull from are perfectly replicated. Vanity plates and nutrition facts on Good Humor bars are a few years premature. One constant element of the genre that Roll Bounce manages to freshen up is the parental figure at odds with their kid’s love of the rink. Chi McBride plays Dad, and his scenes opposite the rebellious Xavier add a touch of emotional weight to counterbalance the silliness.

Director Malcolm Lee had been MIA for the three years following Undercover Brother, the blaxploitation answer to Austin Powers that is hipper and funnier than all three of Mike Meyers’ films combined. Lee’s eye for widescreen composition is complimented by steadicam virtuoso James Muro. Muro apprenticed on dozens of ‘A’ pictures (Casino, Terminator 2, L. A. Confidential) and his confidence with the floating camera brought a fluidity of movement to the film’s numerous skating scenes. Set one year prior to the release of both aforementioned archetypes, this rink redux was yet another happy reminder of the enduring spirit of ‘70s cinema.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Luis Urrea daydreams of San Diego, Oklahoma girl spends summers on Bonair Street

We buy a $120,000 hoiuse in El Cerrito, an incurable eavesdropper, lives of a beautiful girl and a fat boy in San Diego
Next Article

San Diego – city of shame, University Avenue, roommates from hell, writers write about moms

Reader writers' favorite books, music, San Diego small towns, first day of school, the story I wanted to write but didn't
Comments
4

Saw Roller Boogie opening night at the Frontier Drive-In near Sports Arena - you know those little graded hills along every row to lift the front of the cars up, that you have to be careful in the dark not to trip over? A bunch of people showed up in skates who did NOT know about all those little speedbumps, at least not until the lot was littered with them falling on their spandex booty shorts ---

June 28, 2021

Sounds like the crowd was as dopey as the characters.

July 1, 2021

"Roller Boogie" was the last film Linda Blair had clout; she was dating a Canadian actor named David Kennedy and insisted he play the lead opposite her. Several weeks into filming, she and he split up and to make their leading lady happy, the producers gave Kennedy's role to Jim Bray.

And Marks... I bet you didn't know this... "Roll Bounce" was filmed at MY LOCAL ROLLER RINK in Lynwood, IL - just a mile down the road from my casa. Twenty years later, the rink still has ALL of the movie dressings in place, they use it in their marketing/advertising, and people as far away as Australia have visited the place because of the movie.

Aug. 28, 2021

Well now I finally have a good reason to visit Lynwood, IL!

Aug. 28, 2021

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories Fishing Report — What’s getting hooked from ship and shore From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close