Roller Boogie (1979) / Drama-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG for sexuality, brief nudity, some violence and language
Running Time: 104 min.
Cast: Jim Bray, Linda Blair, Roger Perry, Beverly Garland, James Van Patten, Kimberly Beck, Sean McClory, Mark Goddard, Albert Insinnia, M.G. Kelly
Director: Mark L. Lester
Screenplay: Barry Schneider
Review published September 8, 2004
There have been a lot of bad musicals, especially in the 70s and 80s, and Roller Boogie is strictly formula badness through and through. A rich girl with a promising future meets a poor guy with a lot of talent for some sort of fun activity (here dancing on roller skates), and the two fall in love despite their differences, while they must also unite with the other youth in the community to save the place they have most of their fun.
I didn't really expect any film called Roller Boogie to be good. I don't generally like disco, and am not really into roller skating, but that' didn't stop me from liking the critically maligned musical, Xanadu, so I did hold out some hope. Roller Boogie is bad -- really bad, but you know what? It's bad in a good way. I'll just have to come to grips with the fact that deep down I love cheesy flicks about dated fads (Breakin' and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo come immediately to mind). Cheesy movies are just like real cheese -- they need some time to age to full appreciate them, and today, Roller Boogie's aroma is at its ripest.
Jim Bray (a real-life roller skating champ) makes a debut (and final) performance as Bobby James, one of the best roller skaters on Venice Beach. Linda Blair (The Exorcist, Chained Heat) is Terry, a prodigious flautist on the verge of going to Juilliard, who runs away from home to pursue her real dream -- to win a roller boogie contest. Terry and Bobby have a certain chemistry, but they aren't really in the same league. Circumstances force the two together when Terry starts taking roller boogie lessons from Bobby, and the two hit it off. However, their dream of winning the big contest at Jammer's, the local roller disco rink, falls through when a bunch of thugs put the squeeze on the owner and threaten to burn the place down. The rink is closed, the contest is off, and dreams are shattered for all involved!
Unintentional humor is Roller Boogie's ultimate saving grace, and I will freely admit, I laughed loud and long at the wooden acting, horrendous dialogue, ridiculous plot, and some of the most embarrassing dancing ever put to celluloid. Granted, it takes just as much talent to be a good roller boogie dancer as almost any other style of fad dance craze, but damn it, it's still quite funny to watch nonetheless. I can't give the film much credit as far as quality, but I laughed more, much more at Roller Boogie than in the last ten comedies I've seen combined, and when you find a movie that can bring you this much unabashed pleasure, it's a beautiful thing to behold.
It takes about 52 minutes for the film to finally have a plot, and boy does this plot stink. Normally, a wafer thin premise for a film would sink most by becoming heavy-handed, but somehow, dumping murderous thugs in the middle of this atrocity only makes it all the more fun. I mean, where else can you see hardened criminal try to muscle in on a roller skating rink? In what other movie can you watch gun-toting hit-men completely stymied by fruit throwing teenagers? How can you possibly not enjoy watching a guy named "Phones" listen to the same 60 minute tape over and over non-stop for days without ever realizing that the tape has a vital conversation that was accidentally recorded that could blow the criminals out of the water? See a completely distraught and emotionally anguished roller boogie king give the roller rink he loves one last spin in a tearjerker moment that actually evokes real tears (from gut-busting laughter!) What a joy it is to watch a guy wearing skimpy blue shorts one moment answer a phone now wearing blue jeans, and have the woman calling from her car phone in full view compliment him on his blue shorts that he doesn't have on? Bobby talks about his big dreams of winning the gold medal at the Olympics, but doesn't realize that roller skating isn't an Olympic event . Well...ok, it is in the "Special Olympics"...hmmm...
This is classic so-bad-it's-good "MST3K" cinema at its pinnacle (or is that its nadir?) 20 minutes of movie are stuffed into an hour and forty minutes of musical montages, sophomoric pratfalls, and cornball romance. There are only two reasons I'm not giving this the lowest grade -- the aforementioned unintentional camp value and Linda Blair in tight outfits in every scene. As a film, it fails on every conceivable level, but as entertainment, it's hard to beat. You've been warned. Now watch it!
©2004 Vince Leo