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Fox / 98 Minutes / 2010 / Rated PG-13 / Street Date: August 30, 2011
What can I say about Skateland that markedly better movies set in the 80s can’t say for me? While I am always going to defend films that pluck the Flock of Seagulls-strings of my heart with their Kajagoogoo-themed soundtracks, Skateland is a cobbled-together mess of unoriginal ideas ripped off from far better movies and regurgitated here in ever-so-bland fashion. Even the credit-roll, as it cheaply dedicates itself “to the memory of John Hughes”, is a thinly veiled attempt at tweaking the nostalgia-nerve of the audience in order to carry itself to higher praise and possibly worm its way into our collective DVD collections. Though I appreciate the nod towards my formative years, this movie does the 80’s - wicker-shoes, cocaine and all - a disservice.
Skateland tells the story of Ritchie Wheeler, a recent high-school grad who is spinning his wheels in small town early 80’s Texas while trying to find his direction in life. When he finds out that the roller-rink that he works at is being shut down, he realizes that one of the last anchors to his hometown has been severed. Disenchanted with the endless parties and the choices that he and his friends have made he begins to question his reasons for staying behind when his newfound girlfriend is leaving for college. Premise sound familiar enough? That’s because it is a dead rip-off of much better movies like Dazed and Confused, Adventureland, and even a few crappy ones, like Take Me Home Tonight. Add in a hillbilly version of the bullies from Some Kind of Wonderful or The Karate Kid, remove all sense of humor, comedic timing, and then lump in some awful acting and you get a sense of what Skateland brings to the table: Nothing good.
There are a few bright spots in the movie, though they are few and far between. Ashley Greene (Twilight) as Ritchie’s love-interest Michelle, and co-writer Heath Freeman as her Wooderson-esque older brother, Brent, both carry the lion’s share of the weight of this film. Problem is the film focuses almost exclusively on Ritchie, played here in excruciatingly squinty child-actor-plucked-off-the-street fashion by Shiloh Fernandez. I don’t know how this guy is getting work, but he is painful to watch. His whole shtick is based on doing a hackneyed Skeet Ulrich doing an impression of Johnny Depp impression. In the first two minutes of the film he sneers more than Vanilla Ice has in entire whole career, and I should know: I own Cool As Ice.
It would be simple to hang all of the blame for this mess on the acting - it is not a good sign when a supporting actress from The Twilight Saga is blowing away the rest of your cast - but the real blame here lies at the feet of writer/director Anthony Burns and his co-writers Heath & Brandon Freeman. The dialogue is flat and gives the actors very little to work with, while the direction jumbles between thinking that it is an 80’s movie, then a 70’s disco flick, then an early 70’s-set Summer Camp film. Skateland skips back and forth from eras and genres so often that you get a sense the trio helming the film suffered from a schizophrenic mix of laziness and indecision.