Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Movie Review: "Roller Town" by David Pretty

Was' Happenin', Roller Boogerians?

Let me get this out of the way right now: I enjoyed the shit out of Rollertown.  Now, I'm sure some people can watch this film completely stone-faced, but honestly, those people are dead inside.  They're likely the same morons who think that Dane Cook, Russell Peters and Paul Blart: Mall Cop are funny.

For the record those...things aren't funny.  Patton Oswalt, Louis C.K. and Picnicface are funny.  Go figure, I like wit, edge and a high dose of creative weirdness in my comedy.  So sue me.

As a side note, if you don't know anything about the Halifax-based (?) comedy troupe Picnicface: shame on you!  They're a very talented crew and their serendipitous formation, in my humble opinion, fills a critical Canadian cultural void we have to see this generation's take on The Kids in the Hall and/or The Frantics.  With a feature film, book and television show all forming an unavoidable corona of comedic clarity I really believe Picnicface is truly on the cusp of much-overdue national success.

I just hope they they don't turn into the equivalent of that awkward, geeky girl you had a crush on in junior high school who started getting a bunch of attention from guys just after she sprouted boobs and then, all of a sudden, she got all hot, snobby and self-absorbed.

Um, sorry...I digress...

Mercifully, Rollertown is more then just a pair of bookish glasses, a shy smile and a training bra.  It  has wit, edge, and weirdness aplenty.  Actually the film probably would have worked fine as a comedy if the cast and crew just done a shot-for-shot remake of Roller Boogie, Skatetown USA or one of the other god-forsaken roller disco films which polluted the pop-culture landscape of the late 70's.  Mercifully, in addition to all the parody potential inherent in the original source material, Rollertown isn't afraid to riff off into its own absurd and surreal territory.   

The film follows Leo (Mark Little), an idealistic dreamer weaned on the magic of wheel-bound disco dancing.  He's had a rough life thus far: his application for formal skate training has been gratuitously rejected, his dad was murdered by gangsters as a child and his mom died weeks before he was born.  I know, pretty rough, huh?

But he's found solace in "Rollertown", the local skating rink.  It's operated by Murray (Brian Heighton), a sweet, well-intentioned father figure who's just trying to look out for the kid.  Leo's also lucky enough to meet Julia (Kayla Lorette) the girl of his dreams.  Despite his tendency to judo-chop her in the throat and his penchant for manually altering her facial features, the two seem oddly well-suited for one another.

But all is not well.  The opportunistic Greggs (George William Basil) and his hapless goon Beef (Pat Thornton) start leaning on Murray to ditch the roller boogie business in lieu of the next big lucrative thing: video arcade consoles.  Murray manages to hold out for awhile, but its not long before the addictive, anti-social video games (like my own personal favorite: Mouth Wheel) are causing kids to cast off their roller skates and hand quarters over like rats at a feeder bar.

Things become even more dire when Julia's mayoral father (Christopher Shore) reveals a John Lithgow-like hatred for Leo and his brand of low-brow skater shenanigans.  He'd much rather see his daughter pursue a career in classical roller-skating (?) and get willfully molested by prototypical yuppie Davis (Scott Vrooman).  Oh, and have I mentioned that he's in cahoots with Greggs as well? 

It's across this crowded dance floor that Leo must carefully duck n' weave.  During this time he's captured, suffers through a horrendous skate amputation, and then embarks on a painful rehabilitation process overseen by a crazed, corn-obsessed forest hobo named Pete (Andrew Bush).  But just like bell-bottoms and leg-warmers, Leo makes a comeback and begins a quest to avenge his precious roller rink.

I loved this stupid film.  I loved Beef's brain-damaged interrogation techniques and his choice of reading material.  I loved the Disco Dogfather.  I loved the unthinking, suicidal loyalty of Greggs's goons.  I loved the gleeful willingness of Julia's entire family to graphically mime what it means to be a roller-skating double-dicker.

My only real gripe is the under-usage of certain members of the Picnicface troupe.  Now, I'm sure this had everything to do with each member's availability and their sometimes-minor roles, but whatever the reason, it hurts.  For example, Brian MacQuarrie's indignant, rage-filled Grandpa is pure comedy genius.  Bill Wood makes the most of his abbreviated screen time as the gremlin-esque Brick Assassin.  Evany Rosen, who plays the gum-smacking, dry-humping Beth is also a delight whenever she's on-screen.  And finally Cheryl Hann, who gets a stellar scene early on as a waterfoul-obsessed skating instructor, seems to have been an editing suite casualty as one of the three Boogie Wonderland girls.

The principal actors, on the other hand, acquit themselves quite nicely.  Mark Little carries the film effortlessly.  He's charismatic, eternally put upon and likeably dim as Leo.  He's a real master of the "earnestly oblivious" delivery.  I just loved his scene with Murray where he screams back "Wait!  Listen to me!!!" and then proceeds to draw out an incredibly funny patch of seemingly endless awkward silence.

I would have expected Evany Rosen to reprise her role as Leo's love interest Julia from the promo trailer, but in the feature film, that part has been passed down to Kayla Lorette.  She's more than a suitable substitute, however, she's bright, genuine, sweet and capable of impeccably comedic timing.  Her reactions to Mark's crazed verbal wanderings and odd behavioral tics alone are priceless.

Scott Vrooman and Kyle Dooley are also great as the preppie foils to Mark's character.  Vrooman in particular gets some nasty, smarmy dialogue to work with and he uses it to great effect.  His awkward, incessant pawing over Kayla (not to mention Kyle's expert toadying) just make you love to hate these guys.  In addition, their mid-film mace fight make a compelling case that the descriptor "epic" isn't over-used after all.

I'm also a huge fan of  Brian Heighton, who plays Murray.  Originally cast as Julia's dad in the promotional trailer, this time Brian has plenty of opportunities to interact with Mark Little and the bad guys.  He veers effortlessly back and forth between pleading, befuddled and paternal.  His bullet proof vest malfunction is worth the price of admission alone.

I would really be remiss if I didn't mention George William Basil as Greggs and Pat Thornton as Beef.  Together they comprise the greatest example of comically impotent villainy ever seen on film.  I just giggle uncontrollably when I ponder the scene in which Gregg's tries to goad his counterpart into shooting himself in the head and Beef earns a reprieve with his confused and tentative reply of "Ummmm...no?"   Later, when Beef laments: "Yeah, I don't think I'm very good at this job" you actually kinda feel sorry for the poor shmuck.

A lot of praise for the film's success has to go to first-time director Andy Bush.  Although the film does occasionally reveal its low-budget pedigree (particularly whenever there's a stage set up or backdrop required), Bush and his Director of Photography Christopher Porter compensate with some truly ambitious set ups, visually arresting compositions and a commitment to shooting in as many varied locations as possible.  All of these things really ramp up the film's visual polish and help it to transcend beyond its shoestring budget. 

The movie's special teams also came through nicely.  The costumes and production design are simple yet evocative of a genuinely tasteless era. The lighting is appropriately garish.  Notably, the disco-inspired musical contributions by local wunderkind Rich Aucoin also sound absolutely genuine.  Which brings me to ask: Do we have Aucoin or one of the fictional Boogaloos to thank for the deathless lyrics: "It's a quarter to dick!/ It's half-past pussy!"

The machinations required to set up the movie's ending does sideline the rapid-fire humor for a bit, but frankly, I kinda like that.  I hate it when insecure, mediocre sitcoms like Will & Grace and Big Bang Theory insist that EVERY SINGLE LINE HAS TO BE A JOKE.  Frankly, I find this approach tiring, disposable and irksome.  I'd much rather have the screenwriters invest a bit of time and effort into setting up a joke in order to maximize its payoff.

Honestly, the best thing I can say about Rollertown is that I want to see it again.  And again.  And then maybe once more, and that's it.  Just kidding; honestly, any comedy I'm willing to see more then once has obviously made a pretty big impression on me.

Plus, how can you not love a film which features a life-or-death struggle between a brick-wielding gremlin and a transient armed with a squirrel?              
Tilt: up.

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