This one is a complete hoot. I caught this low-budget, formulaic 1979 film this past weekend on the big screen at the fully packed Castro Theater in San Francisco as part of a roller-disco midnight madness program. The crowd went wild at every absurd turn of the plot, and it's no wonder. Directed by potboiler specialist Mark L. Lester, this ultimate cheese of a roller disco musical avoids a permanent home in the video junk heap simply because of the sheer idiocy of the storyline and the wealth of unintentional humor permeating the film. There are movies that are intentionally vile and not worthy of reviewing, but this one is actually full of good spirits albeit with nothing in the way of taste, wit or common sense. In what has to be the steepest career free-fall for a former Oscar nominee, an extremely nubile, twenty-year old Linda Blair stars as Terry Barkley, a prodigious flautist on her way to Juilliard, who tires of being ignored by her wealthy, 90210-based parents and decides to run away for a whole night. Upon meeting Bobby James in Venice Beach, the king of the disco-driven roller skaters, she decides she wants to learn some moves to win the big roller boogie contest at Jammer's, the local roller disco rink. My favorite plot point is Bobby's aspiration to become an Olympic roller skating gold medalist...even though no one tells him it isn't an Olympic event. Of course, Terry is rich, Bobby is poor, and consequently, romantic sparks are inevitable. Complications, however, occur when a thuggish land developer blackmails Jammer to sell his rink, so he can raze the building and build a shopping mall. The rest of the plot is not worth disclosing except to say that it is as preposterous as the convoluted set-up, and thanks to the wooden acting, horrendous dialogue and hilarious skating sequences, it makes for grade-A camp entertainment. In skin-tight leotards and enough make-up to scare off a Santa Monica Boulevard hooker, Blair makes a sincere attempt at portraying Terry's teen-aged angst. Of course, it helps her professional standing that she is playing opposite real-life roller skating champion Jim Bray, a non-actor who was cast as Bobby only because the producers could not find a leading man who could actually skate. Innately geeky, the never-to-be-seen-again Bray certainly tries hard, though he is defeated by the film's numerous skating sequences which have been inserted so we can be impressed by his expertise. Instead, they provide the film's biggest laughs - the opening where he leads dozens of fellow skaters to the boardwalk to the strains of Cher's disco-diva anthem, "Hell on Wheels"; the ridiculous chase sequence through the streets of Venice where Terry and Bobby are chased unsuccessfully by a speeding car; the concluding roller boogie contest (of course); and in what has to be the absolute nadir, a solo skating number full of cornball treacle dedicated to the drunken Jammer. Familiar faces from the baby-boomer TV generation dot the supporting cast, among them Beverly Garland ("Scarecrow and Mrs. King" and "My Three Sons") and Roger Perry ("The Facts of Life") as Terry's parents; and Mark Goddard ("Lost in Space") as the villainous land developer. If all that is not enough, there are other lures to consider - the blaring disco music; the groovy, circa-1979 clothes; the forced slapstick (in particular, a fruit-throwing mêlée and a very non-spontaneous pool dunking at a garden party). It's hard to think of a movie more execrable, yet the film has an endearing charm for all its misguided inanity. It's worthwhile just for the unintended guffaws. In the 1979-80 holy trinity of roller disco cinema, "Xanadu" may be "Gone With the Wind" and "Skatetown U.S.A." may be "West Side Story", but this one must certainly be "Citizen Kane".
Drama / Music
Drama / Music
Skaters band together to keep their roller-disco open.
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April 3, 2019