Thursday, August 12, 2010

Roller Boogie (1979)

Directed by Mark L Lester
Starring Linda Blair, Jim Bray, Beverly Garland, Roger Perry
Rated PG

"Do you have a mental problem, or something? First you want to skate, then you don't want to skate!"

Produced in wake of Saturday Night Fever's phenomenal success, Roller Boogie's premise, angle, and target audience are all pretty obvious: It's Fever, only for teenagers, and on roller skates. Brilliant! While it clearly didn't click with audiences the way Travolta's polyester epic did, Boogie is nonetheless a fine example of 70's exploitation, filled with sparkle, charm, and a delightfully loopy plotline that borrows as much from Saturday morning cartoons as it does from the roller disco scene it's based on.

Linda Blair is Terry Barkley, a poor little rich girl whose parents never listen to her. Bobby (one-time actor Jim Bray) and Phones (Stoney Jackson, Streets of Fire) are the best skaters on the beach. Bobby works at the skate rental shop, but he does not let this deter him from splitting to disco-skate whenever the mood hits. And it hits him often. It is therefore inevitable that Terry and her busty, high-brow buddy Lana (Kimberly Beck) would cross paths with Bobby and Phones and their gang of hot pants-wearing rollerkids. Interestingly, when Bobby first approaches Terry, she rebuffs him, and then skates off to eat ice cream. Bobby asks around about her, and his pals tell him she's from Beverly Hills and drives a million dollar car. So, this going to be a tough nut to crack, especially since Bobby looks like the dude from REO Speedwagon and spends most of his life in brightly colored shorts.

Besides being rich and beautiful, Terry is also an accomplished flautist (!)with a scholarship to Juliard and an equally well-heeled suitor named Franklin. Alas, despite being handsome and snappily-dressed, Terry finds him to be a grabby creep.

With their day of vigorous culture-clashing over, all the kids at the beach, rich and poor, head over to Jammers for an evening of roller boogie-ing. They all disco-skate to Boogie Wonderland, which was a requirement in 1979. By the way, it looks like the most fun ever. Whatever happened to disco-skating?
Bobby saves Terry from a potential face-plant when a wayward skater almost slams into her. He takes the opportunity to ask her out. She again rebuffs him but offers him a business proposal: She'll pay him $10 an hour to teach her to dance on skates.

 Their lesson goes on for about 15 minutes, and then Terry skates off with some other dudes. She runs into Bobby the next day at the beach, but by now, he's pretty much had it with this dizzy chick and her Linda Ronstatd get-up. But he's a forgiving fellow, so they give it another go.  The skating goes ok, but things get weird later during a beachside make-out session. Sexual tension and abandonment issues and whatnots.

Later on she goes home and tries to have a heart to heart talk with her mom (50's star Beverly Garland!), but it does not go well. Mom ends up popping pills just to get through it. The upshot is that Terry has no real interest in flutes or rich douchebags. All she really wants is to win the Roller Boogie contest.

And then Terry decides to run away from home, but instead, she goes to the beach to skate and make out with Bobby. So that's going on.

Then, in a very Saturday morning cartoons turn of events, a bunch of thugs show and try to force Jammer to sell his place. Luckily, Phones accidentally records the whole conversation on his jam box! Nobody knows that yet, though.

So Jammer gets tanked and gives the kids the bad news - he's closing the roller rink for good.  Or is he? See, the kids have a plan! What is it? Well, Terry's dad (Roger Perry) is a lawyer. That's pretty much the plan.  Dad agrees to help out Jammer after Terry's recital. Said recital takes place in their backyard. All of Terry's beach-bum friends attend. So do the thug guys, who attempt to slaughter the kids. As these things often go, everybody ends up in the pool.

Also, some people end up covered in cake.

Anyway, it turns out dad is in cahoots with the thugs, so the kids need a plan B. Meanwhile, Bobby does a solo disco-skate dance just for Jammer. His shirt says "BJ" on it while he does this. Granted, those are his initials, but still.

Anyway, none of his flouncing around matters, because Jammer sold the rink to the thugs, dad is sending Terry off to stay with her aunt, Phones joined the Hare Krishnas, and the Roller Boogie contest is dead. The end. Or is it?

Of course it's not the end. Phones recorded the whole fuckin' conversation when the thugs threatened to burn down the rink, remember? And Bobby just discovered the tape. So Terry and Bobby zoom to the scene of the crime in their skates and nail the bad guys.  And finally, we get to the roller boogie contest. Was it worth all this bullshit? Yes. Totally worth it.

One of the all-time greatest 70's disco-sploitation flicks, the relentlessly bubbly Roller Boogie is a perennial crowd-pleaser that never fails to provide laughs and boners. Linda Blair's almost impossibly curvy figure and her equally improbable perm are the two of the major highlights here, but there's so much more to take in: the excellent ensemble cast, the spandex and hotpants, the Scooby Doo villains, the obvious stunt doubles, the goofy dance routines, and some of the loopiest dialogue of the era. It all adds up to a sugary ball of dumb 70's fun, an aggressively frivolous joygasm on the wheels that will have even the crankiest among us contemplating a visit to the roller rink.

PS: Come back, Kimberly Beck! We miss your bountiful talent(s)!

- Ken McIntyre

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