The Rise of Dance: Roll Bounce (2005) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Rise of Dance: Roll Bounce (2005)

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Andrew COMMENTARYLast week I looked at Rize, a documentary showing how the proliferation of hip-hop dance into modern culture had produced its own fringe elements.  This week is a bit of a detour, a film less interested in dance yet no less inspired by its rise and a number of interesting other components.  While Roll Bounce isn't a showcase for great moves, its a charming little film that deserves a spot of analysis alongside the other movies on this list.

The team behind Roll Bounce, director Malcolm D. Lee and screenwriter Norman Vance Jr., are responsible for a number of positively oriented African-American films that surged in popularity during the early 00's.  Some of them are great (Barbershop), some of them are underappreciated gems (Undercover Brother), and other's aim nobly high at rewriting history with the overlooked perspectives intact (Men of Honor).  All of these films tie together an unswavering sense of community and Christian spirituality that is not at all overbearing and usually very entertaining.

Given that we're a culture that has grown to adopt a cynical stance on the church and community it's no surprise that these films have found a large audience to draw from.  In the case of Roll Bounce it adopts from this band of films as well as the similarly family-oriented fare that Tyler Perry produces.  It's no surprise that in the same year that Roll Bounce found its way into theaters that Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad Black Woman also found a huge audience.  Both films adopt from the same set of positive values inherent in their creators upbringings and outlooks, adopting Christian values in new settings and trying to draw everyone in from an overlooked vantage point.

It's a nice setting, especially considering how antiquated roller rinks like this are in contemporary film.

Roll Bounce is something of a curious amalgamation of these ideals.  For starters, there's very little of the kind of overt theological considerations that Tyler Perry brings to a lot of his films and even less dance than Honey.  But it blends these elements effortlessly and borrows from the same kind of stylistic techniques that gave the dance sequences in You Got Served their power all while borrowing from the same long shot camerawork that made Rize's dances so engrossing to watch.

Bow Wow (formerly Lil'), as Xavier, makes for a charming lead throughout the film, which takes place in the late 1970's.  His mother died some time ago, leaving him and his father (the great character-actor Chi McBride) alone to tend to his little sister.  He spends his days skating around his local roller rink until it closes down and he's forced to head uptown with his friends in tow to the glamorous Sweetwater rink.  It doesn't take long for his crew to run afoul of another, then a big skate/dance competition is presented with a $500 prize on the line, and the rest of the film writes itself.

Now, I'm primarily concerned about the style of Roll Bounce and how past films act on it, but as far as execution is concerned its a very nice film.  There's no threat of violence, no idiotic struggles, a nice focus on the "nerds" without being too obvious about it (Xavier likes Star Wars and Atari), and a plot that focuses more on coping with the loss of a loved one than any other kind of struggle.

Chi McBride, always a nicely dominating presence in comedies, scales it back a bit for this film and comes out all the better for it.

Chi McBride is very good as his dad, working on his wife's similarly dead car with the kind of focus and determination that should be brought into his waking life.  His realization of this, and the way Xavier brings it about, are both very intelligent and gentle, all while keeping in the hard reality that his wife is dead, lacking any of the sort of the normal spiritual comforts in these films.  All in all, it served as a good and uncommonly smart afternoon at the cinema six years ago and was nice to revisit now.

The camera flows around with an appropriately circular logic during conversations and travelling moments, befitting the roller rink that the characters spend most of their time at.  The dialogue matches the visuals nicely, featuring a number of funny call-backs and conversations that circle in on themselves before arriving at a number of funn punch-lines.

As far as the visuals and direction go, there aren't too many dance sequences in Roll Bouncebut what few there are really make the most of the setting.  The climactic "battle" between all of the crews utilizes a nice 70's throwback split screen technique that showcases the dancers from various angles while paying tribute to the dominant style of the time.

The antagonists are more interesting in just about every way, talent, multicultural diversity, and Sweetness himself embracing James Brown and disco culture all in the same outfit.

The dances themselves are great to watch, even if they aren't as athletically complex as the one's in You Got Served or as physically demanding as those in Rize.  Malcolm D. Lee makes a good directing choice, borrowing the wide and medium-shots of You Got Served but toning down the editing and focusing mostly on the lower half of the characters.  Aside from the final face off between Xavier and improbably handsome James Brown skate-alike Sweetness (Wesley Johnson), most of the film is shot from a point of reverence for the skaters.  If we see them "in the moment" it's from a low angle looking up at their towering figures, and pausing to step back in medium-shot focusing on their legs for some impressive fancy footwork.

Malcolm D. Lee also gives the final skate off quite a bit of credibility by shooting from a distance.  Most of the time everyone is seen in a full wide shot, so we can see the flips and twists on wheels as much as we can the close-ups of their feet in the motion.  Now, there's still a bit of camera trickery involved with Xavier and his crew (though they throw themselves into their routines with loving abandon), but they are skilled enough to "fake" a lot of the moves convincingly and the Malcolm D. Lee's camera choices really help to make a fun and believable atmosphere for the film.

In the grand scheme Roll Bounce probably won't amount to much, but it's nice to see that so many disparate elements can come together to craft an entertainment worth watching.  It pioneer the same energy as it's contemporaries but so what?  The technique and talent on display is well worth a footnote in the modern history of dance in film.

The Schedule
September 13th – Step Up
September 20th – Take the Lead
September 27th – Feel the Noise
October 4th – Planet B-Boy
October 11th – Stomp the Yard
October 18th – How She Move
October 25th –  B-Girl
November 1st – Make It Happen
November 8th – Step Up 2 the Streets
November 15th – Dance Flick
November 22nd – Step-Up 3D

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Roll Bounce (2005)

Directed by Malcolm D. Lee.
Screenplay by Norman Vance Jr.
Starring Bow Wow and Chi McBride.

Posted by Andrew

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