Roll Bounce


Bow Wow as Xavier ‘X’ Smith
Chi McBride as Curtis Smith
Jurnee Smollett as Tori
Brandon T. Jackson as Junior
Rick Gonzalez as Naps
Marcus T. Paulk as Boo
Khleo Thomas as Mixed Mike
Meagan Good as Naomi
Mike Epps as Byron
Charles Q. Murphy as Victor
Kellita Smith as Vivian
Nick Cannon as Bernard
Wesley Jonathan as Sweetness

X (Bow Wow) and his friends have always spent their summers skating at The Garden, but when it closes down they have to venture into new territory – the uptown, upscale Sweetwater rink. As his relationship with his father (Chi McBride) slowly falls apart following the death of his mother, X and his friends try to prepare for the upcoming Roller Jam skate competition to prove the snobbish Sweetwater skaters and themselves that they’re good enough to skate there.

“Roll Bounce” is on its surface a sports/dance film – like “Saturday Night Fever” or “Fame” – with roller-skating instead of dance and a hefty amount of 70’s nostalgia. Beneath that, however, is a warm and human film of life and loss and friends and family. Like all sports films it comes down to a contest between the underdog good guys and the annoyingly competent ‘bad’ guys in a quest for dignity and respect. But, like any good sports film, the contest itself and its resolution aren’t as important as what has come before. The virtue comes in the doing, and the choosing to do.

It’s predictable. It’s a story that’s been told before, but that’s because it’s a good story, and director Malcolm Lee (“Undercover Brother”) tells with well with a sure and steady hand. Some people may be turned off by the roller-skating/dance and the 70s homage, but these are dressings only.

“Roll Bounce” is light, but fortunately not empty. The ensemble cast gels extremely well; everyone from X and his friends to the odd neighborhood garbagemen (Mike Epps and Charles Murphy) to the obnoxious skate jockey (Nick Cannon) at Sweetwater lift just enough to make everything play. It’s nicely multi-layered, with several stories working at once with a fair amount of charm and wit. There are no scene-stealers, but everything works together just as it should. Chi McBride brings his usual stern dignity and humanity to Curtis and Bow Wow plays X’s slow realization of the depth of his loss and how it has been affecting him with honesty and realism.

It’s a family film, and as such it has to restrain itself from the harsher truths of life, such that occasionally the film reaches the unbelievable fantasy of a bad Disney film. For the most part though, the honesty of the performances keeps everything afloat when it could drift into easy sentimentality.

“Roll Bounce” is rated PG-13 for language and some crude humor.