Skate or Die


Larry Clark’s latest finds the grizzled shock-meister in a thoughtful mode and a mellow mood. Unusually benign, Wassup Rockers details a foray into deepest Beverly Hills, made by a septet of 14-year-old South Central skateboarders-cum–punk rock aficionados.

The movie opens with the prettiest member of this possibly invented, anti-hip-hop subculture (Jonathan Velasquez) sitting shirtless on his bed, in double screen, rapping about his sexual experiences and as-yet-unseen friends. The credit sequence includes a totally desultory drive-by shooting, but despite this Wassup Rockers is hardly a screed against inner-city violence. Rather, it’s a kind of fairy-tale adventure.

There aren’t any drugs to be seen but the movie has a mildly antic, buzzy energy. There’s a musical aspect to the scenes in which the rockers skateboard en masse. Indeed, bod-caressing camerawork aside, it seems as though Uncle Larry’s underlying fantasy might be a neorealist remake of A Hard Day’s Night or a goofball West Side Story. Jonathan and his posse—Kico, Spermball, Porky, Eddie, Louie, and Carlos—are good kids, amiable, high-spirited, and exceedingly photogenic. I missed the macguffin that sent them on their way to Beverly Hills, but once a friendly cop confiscates their corroded jalopy, they wind up taking a bus.

At this point, Wassup does threaten to turn tedious—too much skateboard practice and an endless, increasingly inane interaction with a racist Beverly Hills cop. But things bid to get lively in the Larry Clark way once the rockers are picked up by an appraising pair of age-appropriate local girls. There’s a definite frisson as they skate past the Beverly Hills Hotel to wind up at the white-chick palace. “You’re not circumcised,” one tells Jonathan. “Ooh, that looks dangerous.” More culture is exchanged than bodily fluids—but try telling that to the irate white boys who show up and launch an attack on the rockers, sending them on a homeward odyssey through the backyards of Beverly Hills.

Events move from the absurd to the ridiculous. Landing in the midst of a pool party infested with pseudos, the strangers in paradise are told that they’re “like the Mexican Ramones.” The next house, occupied by a Beverly Hills Actor (David Livingston, squinting and grimacing like Clint Eastwood), is altogether less welcoming, but a frighteningly avid Beverly Hills Actress (Janice Dickinson) literally knocks herself out trying to make the boys feel at home.

The rockers take a detour up to Hollywood Boulevard to skate on the stars before returning at dawn to what one portentously calls the Ghetto. Not everybody makes it back but no matter: Spermball gets the gang to recognize his name is Milton.