It's hard to wring much pathos out of lacing up quad skates, although Hollywood tried to cash in on the late-'70s craze with Roller Boogie and Skatetown, U.S.A. (both from 1979), and most notoriously with the Electric Light Orchestra--scored Xanadu (1980), starring Olivia Newton-John. Set in Chicago in the summer of 1978, Malcolm D. Lee's wan yet soulful valentine to jam skating boasts a much more charismatic lead: hip-hop teen heartthrob Bow Wow as Xavier, alias X, a good kid from the South Side who skates for his dead mama. Better still, not a single Newton-John--ELO atrocity taints Roll Bounce's soundtrack; Lee's film grooves with funk standbys ("Flashlight") and rarities ("Get Off" by Foxy), and even Heart's "Barracuda."
When no one's on wheels clapping to Parliament, however, the film's effervescence fizzles with wearying plotlines for its hero: X confronts and reconciles with his beleaguered dad (a wonderful McBride); leads his crew to a skate-off against ritzier kids from the North Side; and kisses his girl, Naomi (Good)—one of the few females not reduced to a booty shot.
But it's easy to get lost in Roll Bounce's nostalgic haze. As he demonstrated in Undercover Brother (2002), Lee excels in pop-culture specificity. His '70s show includes a clip from Soul Train, a scene of X and his pals playing Centipede, and a loving shot of a Donny Hathaway album cover. When Hathaway's "For All We Know" plays, it sounds like the perfect couples-skate anthem.