Directed by Malcolm D. Lee
Fox Searchlight, opens September 23
Remember in Bring It On when the cheerleading squads face off for the final showdown? Y'know, when those furious edits from the stars' faces to their stunt doubles' bodies get so complex that it looks like a bunch of severed limbs in a kaleidosopic jumble. Now imagine the same thing with a bunch of dudes in 70's House costumeson skates. OK, it's true, nobody expects rapper-actor Bow Wow to do rolling back flips with a comb in his pocket (N.B.: Bow Wow is not "Lil" anymore. Like Stevie Wonder before him, he's dropped that diminutive, though apparently has a compelling reason for retaining "Bow Wow"). But if you know the climactic skate-off is gonna be almost all cutaways, you better be dealing with some Gabrielle Unionsize charisma on the dramedy side. As Xavier, a South Side Chicago kid at odds with his gruff dad (Boston Public's regimented softie Chi McBride) after his mom's death, Bow Wow isn't bad. But he and the dudes who fill out X's crew never quite nail the desired What's Happening!!vibe. There is a certain warmth here, though, as these working-class pals shyly hit the glitzy crosstown rink. Unfortunately, despite the slamming soundtrack, their eventual rollerjam rivalry doesn't really get the blood up. Their swanky foes are rich white clowns inexplicably led by a proto-Prince figure named "Sweetness" (embodied with hot-to-death irony by Wesley Jonathan). And unlike Bring It On or even Drumline, it never feels like anything's at stake. Cameos like Mike Epps and Charlie Murphy as volatile sanitation engineers are fun, though too brief. Nick Cannon and Wayne Brady camp it up as loverman rink employees. But ultimately, it's Jurnee Smollett, as the new brace-face babe in town, who shines like a glittering unicorn iron-on. Smollett gets the movie's best snaps, and she savors them. Her enforced ugly-duckling status is dubious throughout. With this much round-the-way charm, she'd never need Roll Bounce's predictable Swan-style reveal to pull a date for a couples skate.