Monday, September 26, 2016

Roller Boogie

So one of the movies I watched off my DVR over the weekend was Roller Boogie. It's available from the TCM Shop on both DVD and Blu-ray, so I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on it even though I don't think it's on the TCM schedule any time soon.

The movie opens to the strains of Cher singing a disco-styled song, with a bungh of people getting ready to go out roller skating in Venice Beach, CA, in what looks like Busby Berkeley meets the 1970s. Well, not quite Busby Berkeley, but close. Bobby (Jim Bray) is the best skater around, to the point that he's training for the Olympics! Now, of course, roller skating was not an Olympic event then, and still isn't one, but whatever. Suspend your disbelief here.

Meanwhile, over in Beverly Hills, there's rich girl Terry (Linda Blair). She's misunderstood by her parents (Roger Perry and Beverly Garland). Although she's an excellent flautist and is on her way to getting a scholarship to Juilliard, she wants to roller skate, and takes her car, gets friend Lana (Kimberly Beck), and goes off to Venice Beach. Now, you know she's going to meet Bobby, because there's no point in having a movie otherwise if you don't have a hoary plot point like this. Not only that, but she's going to fall in love with him, which is of course going to be a problem since they're from completely different social classes and because Terry's parents think the hilariously square Franklin (Chris Nelson) is right for her.

Once Bobby and Terry meet, Bobby teaches Terry how to skate, and spends some time with her at the skater's hangout rink, owned by past champion Jammer Delaney (Sean McClory). Jammer's rink is going to host the big roller boogie competition, too, and Terry is set on entering with Bobby and winning. There's one catch. Property developer Thatcher (Mark Goddard) has been trying to buy up the land, and has reached the point that he's willing to use his hired goons to intimidate Jammer into selling. Complicating things is that Terry's father happens to be Thatcher's lawyer, although Terry doesn't realize this.

Now, you can guess exactly where the movie is going to go, that the roller boogie competition is going to be held after all, and that Bobby and Terry are going to win, all obstacles during the movie aside. And yet the movie is still worth watching. Why is that?

Roller Boogie, it turns out, is hilariously awful. The plot is insipidly unoriginal, and not helped one bit by a male lead who couldn't act. To be fair to the producers, however, the role called for somebody who could actually roller skate almost as well as Sonja Henie could ice skate. Henie wasn't the greatest actress, although she got plots suitable for her limited range. Bray isn't even that good an actor. The movie is hilarious in all the wrong places.

Roller Boogie also winds up being worth a watch because it's a paean to the late 1970s. The fashions will, by turns, fascinate, astonish, and horrify the viewer. The 70s short-shorts combined with knee-high tube socks are interesting. Everybody gets to wear skimpy stuff, whether it's the women in either bikini tops or skin-tight leotards, or the men wearing shirts open all the way down the chest (or even the one guy in the opening number roller skating in the sort of old-fashioned wrestling singlet that covers up very little -- watch for the old Adidas logos in various spots too). There's also the 1970s technology; watch for the telephones as well as the one black character's headphones and cassette player.

And then there are the musical numbers. I mentioned the opening one reminiscent of Busby Berkelery; there are a couple other crowd numbers too. More shocking is a solo number Bobby does when he learns Jammer is closing down the rink. What's up with that one.

Roller Boogie goes off the rails in oh so many ways, but it winds up being fun because of this.

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