Ostensibly, Free Style is one of those uplifting family movies built around a niche sport à la 1993’s rollerblading cash-in Airborne, with an underdog realizing dreams against the odds. Veteran family fare hack William Dear (Harry and the Hendersons!) does a decent job of fetishizing motocross, with motorcycles splattering dirt all over deadly courses, but Free Style actually minimizes the sport, opening and closing races aside. Instead, its focus is squarely on protagonist Cole (High School Musical heartthrob Corbin Bleu) and his rage, which makes this shockingly bleak for “family fun.” In its brief running time, Free Style tackles (or at least mentions) racism, classism, fatherless single-parent families, and economic disenfranchisement. Though still pandering and formulaic, the film is also surprisingly sensitive to the plight of Cole, a kid forced to abandon his shot at college in favor of working two jobs to support his family. (The script isn’t quite brave enough to articulate his high school dropout status.) Lower-class rage is addressed in a fashion that most movies—let alone family ones—shy away from. Which doesn’t make this a good movie, but at least it has something on its mind.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 6, 2009