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The idea of the (not so) Secret Santa exchange was fun, but problematic. My concern was whether I’d be assigned a film bad enough to justify a full-length review. I felt reassured when the esteemed Sgt. Andrew Borntreger of Badmovies.org drew my name out of the ethereal hat. Of us all, he undoubtedly has the biggest selection of crappy videos, laser discs and DVDs. Even so, I remained somewhat concerned until I popped the cassette he sent me into my VCR. I had, you see, never seen Prayer of the Rollerboys. In fact, I’d tended to confuse it with another unseen, youth-oriented and bizarre looking sci-fi epic that happened to feature lots and lots of roller-skating, Solarbabys. (If the latter is anywhere as horrible as our current subject, I should probably check that out as well.) After a minute or two of viewing, however, I worried no longer. Experienced extreme pain and horror, yes. Worried, no.
The thing that kept throwing me here was that I was expecting a somewhat satirical film. These expectations continued even after I began watching the film. I think I was a good twenty minutes in before I actually comprehended that the film was meant to be taken seriously. I mean, cripes, the hero is played by Corey Haim, you know what I mean? And the villains are a gang of inline skaters who wear matching white dusters and skate in a synchronized ‘V’ formation, swinging their arms back and forth in time like some mutant offspring of Busby Berkeley and a hot dog stand carhop. Even so, the movie proves to be more or less dead serious. It seems to me to been ‘inspired’ by Walter Hill’s The Warriors, with a dash of--and please forgive me for mentioning this movie here--Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange.
My first surprise, given the preconceptions I had of the film, was that it was ‘R’ rated. Indeed, for quite some time I remained bewildered by every issuance of harsh language. Swearing is regularly used here to gin up the script and add to the film’s ‘adultness.’ Even odder and more gratuitous are the regular displays of bared breasts. Again, though, it’s hard to view this as a serious film when its main character is a teenager who spends all his spare time rollerblading. Exaggerating this problem is the casting. Remember the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where that idiot Wesley Crusher came back to visit from Star Fleet Academy and was soon making out with a hot young ensign? (Played, it pains me to recall, by the exceedingly hot Ashley Judd.) And all you could think was, "Wesley Crusher? Getting a girl?!!" Well, everything that Wil Wheaton brought to Wesley to make that notion unbelievable, not to mention tremendously galling, Corey Haim brings here. Haim playing a tough, streetwise lady-killer is a bit much to swallow.
The film's production date also threw me. I was, I admit, much shocked by the fact that the movie came out in 1991. Every indication, from its *ahem* star to the style of ‘futuristic’ set design seemed to scream '1985.' I mean, you know how you look at the ‘future’ presented in Logan’s Run and can just tell that it was made in the ‘70s? That’s how this film seemed, from the ‘80s oriented haircuts to the clothing. Also, and I mean I guess I’m just not up on this sort of thing, but when was rollerblading big? Was it really as late as the early ‘90s? And it’s not just me, by the way. As I mentioned, Andrew Borntreger actually sent me this film from his own shelves. Yet when I informed him that it was released in 1991, he was as shocked as I was.
Not to beat a dead horse – or acting career -- but here again Haim’s casting works against the picture. Haim might have been twenty when the film came out, but he still looked all of fifteen. His voice even cracks during ‘emotional’ scenes. Nor is his habit of wearing an elastic headband helping, which in causing his hair to fountain up works rather like a big scrunchie. I guess at the time Haim, his acting career crumbling around him, had been involved in some sort of drug scandal. (Gee, imagine.) Perhaps they thought this would lend him weight in his role as an adult rabble-rouser. Well, guess what, it didn’t.
The first image we see is an animated cross. From behind this emerges a cartoon viper/dragon, which wraps around the cross and then comes rushing at the audience. Whatever effect they were trying for here, I don’t think they got it. Unless it was to confuse the audience, in which case mission accomplished. This leads into the title, Prayer of the Rollerboys. Then the dark blue background this has all appeared shatters into cartoon shards. What we see next is someone energetically roller-skating around one of those gigantic outdoor cement rinks, one rife with the obligatory graffiti. Is anyone surprised that I thought the movie following such an intro would be a tad spoofy?
The camera follows this ‘action,’ with a lite rock soundtrack blasting along. I have to admit, I never got into the ‘80s mania for films built around supposedly frenetic semi-sports like dirt biking (Rad; BMX Bandits [an early Nicole Kidman movie!]; The Dirt Bike Kid), skateboarding (Gleaming the Cube; Thrashin’), 10 speed biking (Quicksilver) or, especially, roller skating. Although, I must admit, I’m looking forward someday to seeing Roller Boogie. Anyway, we watch Corey Haim prove his chops as an inline skater. Not, of course, without the aid of a stunt guy for when his character has to somersault through the air and such. For those keeping track, Corey is wearing a sleeveless T-Shirt, jeans and a blue bandana tied around his head. (The better to hide the stunt man, m’ dear.)
Corey’s name in this deal is Griffin. His pre-adolescent brother is Miltie, first seen scrounging an artfully besmirched Mr. Coffee from a trash compartment. Then we see a supposed television segment. This features a close-up of blonde Christopher Atkins-wannabe Gary Lee, the the leader of the Rollerboys, who is shown standing before an American Flag. From this background he not only inspires Patton jokes but also gives a speech that coincidentally fills in much of our backstory. From this we learn:
All these threads are *yawn* artfully intercut. Gary Lee gives his fanatical speech, exposing himself as a demagogic leader recruiting others to his cause. Miltie, for his part, tries to sell the coffee maker. He also takes the time to lewdly cast a glance over Casey (Patricia Arquette), who's attired in a sailor cap, sunglasses and leopard print jacket. "Nice piece of work," he exclaims, because nothing spells entertainment like horny twelve year-olds giving chicks the eye. Meanwhile, of course, we periodically cut back to watch Griffin do ‘cool’ roller skating stuff, often in slow motion. Because that’s largely what the movie’s about, after all. Eventually Our Hero ends up skating through the empty concrete bed of the old Los Angeles River, a location that’s been featured in almost as many movies as Bronson Canyon. This afforded me a pleasant moment or two as I fantasized about giant ants emerging from the sewer outlets and ripping him into pieces.
Unfortunately, this audience-pleasing notion fails to be realized and the movie continues on. Oh, and Griffin skates past a big graffiti sign announcing that "The Day of the Rope is Coming…" The camera stays on this after he wheels past and an ‘eerie’ musical sting blares forth, just to make sure we’re paying attention. Following that, we see that Gary Lee’s televised speech is being watched on multiple monitors in a sort of Rollerboys clubhouse. The viewers prove to be a small group of teen and pre-teen boys, including *gasp* Miltie. This established, we now get our first actual shot of a group of Rollerboys. As indicated earlier, they are skating in formation in long white coats and swinging their arms back and forth in a synchronized fashion. At this, we are suddenly struck with the notion that, Griffin aside, roller-skating can be a force for Evil as well as for Good. This is emphasized when Griffin pops in and pulls Miltie out of the Rollerboy den.
Later we see Miltie and Griffin in the house/ repair shop of Speedbagger, who’s sort of the boys’ father figure. Speedbagger (because he boxes, get it?) is also black guy. Since he’s Griffin’s friend, that give our hero valuable Authenticity Points™. Anyway, who should come walking in but Casey. She wants Speedbagger to replace the wheels on her skates. Here we get more ‘humorously’ precocious behavior from Miltie. When Griffin gets tongue-tied at the sight of this young beauty, Miltie takes over. "Hey, Honey Pie," he charmingly calls out. He informs Casey that his "bro" is the "baddest skater there is." I think one reason this film had trouble finding an audience was due to the general dearth of people whose heart begins beating faster at the thought of someone with this particular skill.
The humor of the scene – remember, precocious kids are always funny, like old women who swear -- quickly is transformed, however, to tension. "If he’s such a great skater," Casey asks, "why isn’t he a Rollerboy?" Griffin shakes his head at the question and says "Rollerboy" sarcastically. See, what they’re trying to get across here, and in the earlier scene where he angrily pulled Miltie from the Rollerboy establishment, is that Our Hero doesn’t like the Rollerboys. See, this will be important to the plot, and I don’t want to fail to get it across as well as the film does.
Next we see Griffin at work. He’s a pizza delivery guy, and he drives a van that’s reinforced with chain linking and floodlights and such, like the vehicles in Escape from New York. He also carries an M16 (!!) with him. This scene I am pretty sure is mean to be funny (I think), since he’s attired in barbershop quartet fashion, with a straw boater and an old-fashioned red and white striped shirt. Also his boss, Pinky, is a Comical Meatball type. Admittedly, he’s not actually funny, but he’s still the type. For instance, he also uses a less than complementary term for women. (No, not the ‘b’ one. It’s a word that’s usually teamed with a certain beverage favored by astronauts.) And then Griffin calls him the ‘a’ word. Like I said, I had it in my head that this would more or less be a PG-13 affair. And, really, there’s no reason for it not to be. It’s like one of those otherwise innocuous movies where they toss in the ‘f’ word once or twice to score a more ‘adult’ rating. In fact, now that I think about it, that’s exactly what this is. Anyway, Griffin drives around the corner and Miltie pops up and flags him down. Miltie opens the unlocked (!!) passenger door of the *ahem* reinforced vehicle and bums a ride and some pizza.
We cut to a local that has a sign informing us that it’s the "No. 87 Municipal Homeless Center." Here we see average Joe Americans huddles around, how’d you guess, trashcan fires. Griffin drives up and approaches the barb-wired compound with a pizza. Needless to say, it’s for the guards, not the "residents." Meanwhile, Miltie stops eating when he spies a young girl in the enclosure. Her grim, befouled condition is obviously meant to Tug At Our Heartstrings. Anyway, Miltie jumps out to slide her a slice and pizza and nearly gets shot down (!!) for his troubles. Thus is a poorly thought out dystopian future suggested in some rather broad strokes.
We also get our first mentions of Mist, which is the movie’s generic Evil Drug. We know it’s bad because it’s a green, glowing liquid. (Just like, in fact, the Kerbango liquor favored by the Psychlos in Battlefield Earth.) If I had someone to bet a buck with, I’d say that the Rollerboys will eventually turn out to be *gasp* the secret suppliers of this substance. After all, if the drug didn’t have some sort of a plot purpose they wouldn’t bother to keep bringing the stuff up.
The brothers get lost, allowing for various bits of expository dialog to be promulgated. For instance, only the Rich *gasp* in American now obtain educations. Of course, that could mean that the public school system works exactly the way it does now, since they don’t really go into details. Man, this is a sad, dystopian future. Here it is decades from now and the country apparently still doesn’t have an educational voucher system. Anyhoo, Griffin sees a house with flames shooting out of it. Being a helpless Good Samaritan type, he stops to see what’s going on. Meanwhile, two armed thugs (one, a black guy, sports a black beret and an eye patch!) appear from behind the house and try to shoot at a fellow trapped inside. The assailants then take off, whereupon Griffin uses the van to smash through the house’s front wall. The guy inside gets out safely, only to run off when he hears sirens approaching. Griffin and Miltie are left holding the bag.
The two get harassed by the cops, especially Det. Jaworsky. It turns out that the guy Griffin saved was a Rollerboy / Mist Dealer (told ya), and Jaworsky thinks he’d have been better off frying. Still, Griffin’s story checks out and they are freed. Then Pinky shows up for a ‘comic’ scene where he freaks out about his messed-up van. Actually, given the picture they’ve painted of the country’s economic condition, he’d probably have a good reason to bitch.
Realizing that the audience has at this juncture been denied any pulse pounding roller-skating action for nearly ten minutes, we cut to Griffin practicing his moves in an abandoned but strangely well lit parking garage. Again, given the supposed state of the economy, why would anyone squander valuable dinero by lighting an utterly empty garage? I mean, OK, to provide Griffin with a ‘cool’ backdrop for this scene. Besides that, though.
Actually, it’s to provide a backdrop for Griffin’s first scene directly opposite some Rollerboys. They come skating in to the garage single file, swinging those arms, before fanning out into the aforementioned ‘V’. "Rollerboys," Miltie gasps. "So cool!" (Well, everyone’s entitled to their opinion.) Leading the ‘Boys is none other than Gary Lee himself, who comes to a spinning halt – again, if that’s the kind of thing that makes you say ‘wow!’, than this is the film for you -- directly before Our Hero.
"It’s been a long time, Gary Lee," Griffin says. In a shockingly innovative twist, Griffin and Gary Lee turn out to have some history: As kids they were next-door neighbors and best friends. Then Griffin left town, only to return recently. Anyway, Gary Lee is here to thank Griffin for saving Bullwinkle (!), the chap caught in the house fire. Bullwinkle, who just happens to be Gary Lee’s official Surly & Suspicious Number Two Guy, bristles at having to thank Our Hero. Moreover, he will undoubtedly be the Underling Who Resents The Boss’s Bond With the Hero. Hey, every movie like this needs one.
If Bullwinkle is standoffish, however, Gary Lee is, inevitably, not. The Rollerboys, he promises, always repay their debts. Griffin has only to ask for anything he wants. Of course, we know our hero would never enter into such a Faustian bargain. Which is why we have Miltie. Before leaving, Gary Lee rolls over and hangs his personal Rollerboys cross (the one with the dragon seen in the credits) over the star struck lad’s neck. Then the Rollerboys skate back into formation and glide out of the premises.
Miltie hectors Griffin all the way home, not understanding why his brother wouldn’t want to be a way cool Rollerboy. (My theory: Who wants to join a club that would have Corey Haim in it?) He’s especially worried about the van. With Griffin owing Pinky that much money, he’ll basically be an indentured servant. He thinks they should ask Gary Lee for his help. Finally, Griffin gets so pissed off that he starts…tickling his sibling. This is one of those meant-to-be-heartwarming scenes that instead is just plain nauseating. Then they repair to the tent they live in as further mawkish music helps to convey to us that the two are close. Bleeech.
The next day we see that Griffin’s been reduced to delivering pizzas on a bike, and a pink one at that. Pinky, meanwhile, is lording it over him. Until, that is, Miltie and a Rollerboy come driving up in a shiny new van. Pinky, needless to say, is ecstatic, and grabs the keys before Griffin can stop him. Our Hero then expresses anger over the fact that Miltie ignored his blandishments to stay away from Gary Lee. Well, OK, he’s not angry so much as sulky. I don’t think Corey Haim can do irate. Still, he’s a world-class sulker, I’ve got to give him that.
Griffin goes to the boardwalk to brood. Meanwhile, we hear one of the satirical radio broadcasts that inform us that this was made after 1987, anyway, because that’s when they released Robocop. This one is about how illegal American workers are being deported from Mexico. Get it, because…oh, never mind. Anyhoo, Casey pops up, as she is prone to do. Presumably she’s attracted to the manly scrunchie Our Hero is sporting. OK, it’s a headband, but with his haircut the effect is the same. Meanwhile, she’s either wearing a bustier or doing the Madonna bra-on-its-lonesome thing.
Apparently she believes that Griff -- that’s his nickname, and its shorter, so I’m sticking with it from now on -- is a Mist dealer. OK, that I can believe, because there’s no way I’m buying a Patricia Arquette-looking chick hitting on a Corey Haim-looking dude. He basically tells her to peddle her papers and she angrily skates off. (Oh, from this angle it’s definitely a bra.) This is also presumably a great shot for those who admire Haim for his, er, androgynous qualities. For there he is, standing in the background with his hand on his hip, his scrunchie/headband pushing his hair up and his wrapped-around-his-waist flannel shirt looking suspiciously like a skirt. Let’s just say that he looks like a slightly less butch Susan Powter.
Back to the ‘satire.’ Griff is watching a TV report on how the Japanese have bought Harvard college and moved it brick by brick over to Japan. Two problems. First, the reported fact that the school has been relocated in Hiroshima (!) seems a bit tasteless. Second, we learn that all the Ivy League schools have know been shipped over there. Now, Japan’s a little country. If they’re planting all our elite campuses on their islands, well, I don’t know where they’re finding the room.
Here we get some dialog designed to make sure we ‘get’ all this. Griff, for instance, worries that by the time he raises enough money to get Miltie an education, "there’s not going to be any colleges left." Apparently once the buildings are gone, pffft, that’s it. This gives Speedbagger a chance to go some down home philosophizin’. "It wasn’t long along Society gave you your future," he notes. "They preached it, they reaped it, and then they went and breached it. But the Future’s coming anyhow," he continues, looking over and thrusting his finger at Griff. "It’s got you in its sights. It’s looking for a fight." I have no friggin’ idea what he’s talking about. (Although I did notice that he talks in cadence like many movie black people.) Griff is perhaps equally confused, given his expression. I say ‘perhaps’ because that same confused expression is about the only one actor Haim ever wears.
This is followed by dialog that would have been corny back when Wallace Beery and little Jackie Cooper were starring in The Champ:
"You’ve got to keep your guard up."
Suddenly Bullwinkle comes into the shop with a couple of the boys. One has close-cropped blonde hair and is given a name, ‘Bango,’ and so is probably the crew’s Designation Psycho Guy. The Rollerboys’ appearance here is ominous, or so the accompanying musical sting would have us believe. They begin to bust up the place – OK, one thing – apparently trying to get Speedbagger to cough up a little protection money. Bango begins messing with Griff, who, frankly, fights like a girl. Well, OK, we’re really not supposed to say that anymore. Uh…remember what people used to mean when they said a guy fights like a girl? OK, that’s how Griff fights. Bullwinkle, though, calls him off. Griff, after all, is under Gary Lee’s protection. Given this, they leave Speedbagger in peace and depart.
By the way, Bango is played by Mark Pellegrino, who Jabootuites will remember as the uncredited Tourist #6 in The Lost World: Jurassic Park. (Actually, I’m being snide. He’s also an acting teacher who’s appeared in supporting roles in numerous other movies, mostly independent ones, and has done lots of TV work. And as it turns out, he's easily the best thing in the movie.)
Speedbagger warns his young friend against getting involved with their type. "The Rollerboys ain’t nothin’ new," he expounds. "This new chorus from the old chorus. And I know the next verse. And it ain’t synthesized, or transistorized, or sanctified. It’s coming. So say a prayer, boy. ‘Cause it’s coming soon."
Uh, well said.
Our next scene takes place at night, as we travel to a raucous bash the Rollerboys are throwing at an indoor amusement park. Griff enters the establishment with little trouble, still being in Gary Lee’s good graces. Inside we see a desperate attempt on the filmmakers’ part to suggest a wildly decadent, even bacchanalian, atmosphere. This entails the actors clenching booze bottles and yelling "Whoooo!" noises and grabbing at various young ladies. We see a woman dresses as a mermaid, wearing basically a tail and some blue body make-up. I mean, yes, we can see her breasts. And another guy is making out with a topless chick. (Want to know the very definition of ‘gratuitous’ nudity? Look no further.) And two bikini-clad women are wrestling in a pool full of vegetable oil. Still, I doubt The Hellfire Club of Victorian England would be signing these chaps up as prospective members.
Oh, and there’s guys skating around the place’s merry-go-round. Because, really, when you’re talking entertainment, you’re talking roller-skating. Am I right? Because if I’m not, then this film’s made a serious miscalculation.
Anyhoo, we soon spy Miltie, who’s having himself a grand old time. (Although not too grand of a time, ‘R’ rating or no.) Hence Griff’s presence, having come looking for him. Meanwhile, we see Bango hitting on *gasp* Casey, who certainly seems to get around. Perhaps we’ll learn that she’s robotic and that there are five of her running around. For those who are interested, by the way, Casey is now attired like a harlequin. Oh, and if you ever wanted to here a guy’s manhood referred to as a "little Loch Ness monster", look no further again. Griff walks by the two and then continues on, although the camera then zooms in on Casey so that we don’t miss the fact that she’s watching him with a Significant Glance.
Griff finds Miltie and tells him that it’s time to leave. Miltie isn’t playing that, though. Then Gary Lee appears, coming over to yak with Griff. He starts pushing pressure on Our Hero to join the club, apparently because the gang’s short on their quota of pasty androgynous men-boys. Griff leaves and Casey comes chasing after him. In perhaps the film’s most implausible moment, Griff leans in and lays some lip action on his pursuer. The implausible part being that she seems to be dying for it. OK, fooled again. She’s still asking whether he has any Mist. (Despite the fact that she was just partying with the town’s suppliers. Huh?) Man, it’s horrifying to see what a desperate drug addict is willing to do.
After some more passionate open-mouth action (get this girl an Oscar, quick), which lasted just long enough for me to lay heavily on the fast forward button before I gagged, he…he….uh, reaches under her skirt and removes a, er, personal object of clothing. Then, having degraded her, he tut tuts her drug problem, hands back her undergarment and skates off. Thus is Casey saved from a Fate Worse Than Death.
Next Griff rolls through a street carnival/brothel (!), or some damn thing, where more chicks fall all over him. I know I’m beating that horse, but really, watching all this is a little off-putting, to say the least. Still, it gives the filmmakers, as desperate as the brothel barkers to attract clientele, another chance to feature some pointless female nudity.
Two dudes, one black, one white, both wearing retro Bogart-esque threads, intercept Our Hero. Apparently they have a problem with "roller-puds," a locution so lyrical they use it repeatedly. The white guy draws a revolver, but Griff knocks them off balance and skates off. (Am I the only one who thinks I’m typing the work ‘skates’ too much in this review?) His escape is blocked, however, by the sudden appearance of Jaworsky. People do a lot of sudden appearing in this film.
Griff is soon being hauled into Jaworsky’s office. The detective explains that the town in on the brink of a gang war between the Rollerboys and the B-13s, the guys who were trying to kill Bullwinkle. Maybe you’ve seen a movie with some sort of a cop in it before, or perhaps an episode of some television program. If so, then you’ll probably be less than shocked to learn that Jaworsky wants to recruit Griff to go undercover with the Rollerboys. Griff, needless to say, if less than happy with the idea. Still, Jaworsky knows what button to push, and describes what will happen to Miltie when he inevitably becomes one of one of the gang’s youthful runners. Watching all this by hidden camera (I think, it’s hard to tell because we didn’t see a lens come telescoping out) is, who else, Casey. After all, we haven’t seen her for a whole scene or so. Her opinion, though, is that Griff can’t handle such an assignment. "This kid’s a washout," she proclaims. Which, frankly, about sums things up.
Sure enough, Griff soon spies Miltie selling Mist out on the street. Griff confronts him, whereupon Miltie tries to distract him with a Polish joke. Oh, the horror. Not only is his brother selling drugs, but he’s telling un-P.C. jokes. As the two begin to argue, a truckload of B-13s pulls up and begins shooting it out with some nearby Rollerboys. The bit of action is sort of perfunctory, with a bit of slo-mo the sole stab at any sort of style. They don’t even bother with squibs. Guys take a point blank burst of automatic fire to the chest, go "Uhhh!", and fall over. If this were a TV movie, or rated PG or PG-13, I’d get it. But for an R rated picture it’s a rather tame sequence.
The B-13 guys drive off, but spot easier prey in Griff and Miltie and start chasing after them. Eventually Griff is cornered in an alley by some gun-wielding thugs and looking like his number’s up. (As if we should be so lucky.) However, at the very last second, Bullwinkle offscreen teleports in and shots down Griff’s assailants. This please him mightily, for not only has he offed some of the competition, but he’s squared things with Griff. The latter, meanwhile, is aghast when Miltie runs over to sing Bullwinkle’s praises and to deliver a few postmortem kicks to the bodies.
Griff now realizes he has to do as Jaworsky asked. His price, though, is a promise that should he die whilst undercover, Jaworsky has to get Miltie into a witness protection program and see that he’s educated. Jaworsky pleads poverty, noting that he can’t even provide uniforms for many of his men. Griff stands firm, though. "You want to get inside, I’m the only one who can do that," Our Hero exclaims, "and you know it!" You might wonder why I quoted that line, as it’s not especially funny. Haim’s reading of the line is, however, as his voice majorly cracks, just like a thirteen year-old’s, on the word "know." What really kills me is that they didn’t bother to reshoot the scene, or at least re-loop the line. Then the two pause to discuss the meaning of the phrase "Day of the Rope," so that we get that there’s a diabolical significance behind it.
And so Griff pops over to the Rollerboys HQ. Bullwinkle’s sitting in the main office, reading the paper. "Germany Buy Poland" reads the headline. Well, that’s an improvement, anyway. Usually they just send tanks in. Gary Lee, meanwhile, is buying weapons from Mr. Nobaro, a Japanese gentleman. Learning that Gary Lee is planning to "buy back America," Nobaro snorts "Who wants it?" (Boo! Hiss!) After he leaves Gary Lee gloats over his new rifles. The guns were only used, we’re told, "that week the Israelis were hired to mop up Northern Ireland."
Bullwinkle remains suspicious of Griff’s sudden interest in joining up. And he would be, because that’s the role of his character. Then, in a laughable attempt to show us Griff’s ‘edge’, Our Hero spins and starts shooting up the décor of Gary Lee’s office. Then he turns, gun in hand, facing Bullwinkle. "I never changed my mind about you, though," he lisps. OK, it’s not "Go ahead, make my day," but it’s all we’re going to get. Gary Lee is pleased, however. "Same old Griff!" he exclaims. Which makes you wonder what kind of kid Griff was, being that they haven’t seen each other since they were eight.
Bullwinkle leaves so that Griff and Gary Lee can indulge in some exposition. First we get some (useless) backstory for Griff, about how his dad was a drunk and that both parents died in a car accident. Also, in another none too subtle hint at Gary Lee’s pocket fascism, he’s given a line that reads like it’s from Nietzsche for Dummies: "You can’t ever give up! Adversity should only make you stronger." We also learn that he doesn’t allow any of his troops to use Mist. "I am very strict on this," he says. Boys and girls, I think we’ve just heard the Plot Point Chime™ ring. Oh, and there’s an initiation test to get into the Rollerboys. Even for Griff.
So we cut to Griff and two other guys on skates being dragged behind a Rollerboy truck. They’re going to be dropped off in front of some heavily guarded shipping yards. They belong to Mr. Nobaro, the Japanese guy Gary Lee bought guns from. (Or didn’t. More on that later.) The rules are as follows: Get through the length of the shipping yards, emerging on the other side with one of the employees’ security badges. The first one to do so gets a ride home, the others don’t. So saying, the trunk banks to the left and the skaters ride the momentum towards the gate.
Guards emerge and are soon firing on the intruders. One contestant quickly buys it as Griff and the remaining guy continue on. This is one of those scenes you really have to see to appreciate. The shipping yard has this wide passageway bordered by two rows of parked train cars. So the two remaining contestants go slowly skating down this alleyway, big as life, as guards not twenty yards behind them are cutting loose with automatic weapons. In real life these guys would be tomato paste. This is a movie, though, and so somehow they manage not to get shot up.
Now, I know I’ve been beating on Corey Haim up to now. And I know my complaints might begin to get monotonous. However, you must realize that I generally write these movies as I’m watching them. In other words, I’ve not seen much further into picture this than I’m now describing. Moreover, I’ve just spent a very unpleasant month reviewing, off and on, Battlefield Earth. Unfortunately, I dawdled a little too much and didn’t get that one wrapped up until late last weekend. Believe me, six days (including five work days) is a very short time for me to crank out one of these full reviews. Unfortunately, the roundtable date meant that I actually had a deadline for this to be up and posted. Hence I had to start writing it on Monday, the day directly after I finally finished up the Battlefield Earth piece, and then work on it every night since and then all day Saturday, on which, I’m assuming, I’ll eventually end up getting it posted by the skin of my teeth.
Like I’ve said, writing the Battlefield Earth piece was fairly torturous. Mostly because of the fact that the film contained a lead performance of astonishing awfulness, to wit John Travolta’s. Travolta seemed to be in that film purely for his own amusement. (In which case, sir, mission accomplished!) As awful as the film was in other aspects, it was really that one element that ended up sinking it.
So what do we get here? The same damn thing!! This film, as stupid and as boring as it is, is being torpedoed by the lead actor. Mostly because the guy just can’t act. As the film finally begins becoming an action picture, which is what it’s advertised to be, Haim just becomes more and more of a liability. Maybe in real life Haim got chicks, but on the screen, I ain’t buying it. That’s one problem. Yet the bigger one is that Haim projects less menace than Don Knotts on his worst day. You might think I’m exaggerating, but I’m dead serious: For the first time I can remember, I’m watching someone who’s less believable as an action lead than Melanie Griffith was in A Stranger Among Us! And like some skinny, over-coifed Samson bringing down an already condemned temple, Haim is just pulling the whole rotten thing down on top of himself.
Take this scene right here. The other contestant starts trying to knock Griff over, presumably to make him a more vulnerable target for the guards. In other words, he’s trying to kill our lead character. (The most appalling aspect of all this? That this bit was obviously ‘inspired’ by the chariot race scene in Ben Hur, where Steven Boyd tries to literally bump off Charlton Heston by running their chariots together, hoping to knock him under the horses’ hoofs.) So how does Our Stalwart Griff react to this mortal threat? Basically by flailing away at the guy with his arms while donning a peeved expression that all but says, "Hey quiiit it, you jerk!!"
The scene continues, it being one of the film’s *ahem* big set pieces. The two skate around whilst dodging bullets, ducking up and down narrow alleyways, and then coming back together to flail at one another again. (The other guy can’t be much more aggressive than Corey is, because if he did the wispy star would immediately be knocked ass over teakettle.) Then we get the scene’s thrillingly moronic highlight. Some of the guards drive a pick-up truck into their path, cutting them off from escape. Opponent Guy crashes into the vehicle, but when Griff approaches we cut to the other side and watch as he jumps up over the truck entirely!! Not only is this impossible, but much worse, it looks impossible. John Woo’s gun battles are impossible too, but they look believable as we watch them on the screen. This…does not.
Oh, by the way:
THINGS I LEARNED:
Anyhoo, Griff continues on. He ducks trucks (the ones he doesn’t jump over) and when a guy on a motorcycle chases him into a building the motorcycle falls over. (??) On the way through, Griff grabs a security badge off of a woman. Then he continues out towards the rear gate. On the way Other Guy reappears and they begin to ineffectually spar again. They look like guys who learned how to fight from Joe Besser. Then they skate under a convenient semi-raised railroad car, which is apparently there solely to keep the security squad from getting past.
On the other side they see a locked gate, but luckily the Rollerboys truck is there and Bango has a rocket launcher (!) at the ready. The gate goes all ‘boom’ and there are a whole lot of flames for no real reason although I’m guessing this was supposed to look real cool and stuff. Then the guys ride through, trying to catch up with the truck, which began leaving before they got to it. Griff catches it first, winning the contest, and Gary Lee produces a pistol and shoots Other Guy. "Rules are rules," he shrugs. Meanwhile, Griff assumes a displeased expression so that we get that he’s not down with this Wanton Violence.
Then Griff spots some crates in the truck. One of these has conveniently been left open so that he (oh, and us) can see that they hold guns. Apparently Gary Lee and the boys used the boys’ escapade as a diversion, during which they stole the weapons. Of course, the entire skate-through-the-compound thing lasted about two or three minutes, so that makes no sense. Anyway. "I did offer to buy them," Gary Lee shrugs. Actually, when we saw Mr. Nobaro in Gary Lee’s office earlier, he was walking off with a bundle of cash. So I’m guessing there was a scene where he failed to deliver the guns, but it got edited out.
Next we see Griffin’s initiation rite. In order to further spotlight the none-too-subtle parallels between the Rollerboys and the Nazi party, this is a fire-lit ceremony with much chanting and such. In fact, if you’ve ever wanted to see what Triumph of the Will would look like had Leni Riefenstahl been an untalented hack with only a small crowd to work with, here’s your chance. The entire organization is there, including Miltie and a bunch of other young Rollerboy gofers. This, I imagine, is meant to be the most frightening thing of all. (Yawn.) Griff rolls in wearing his new white duster, wheeling down to a circular dais to join Gary Lee.
Griff is hailed as the newest brother of the Rollerboys. "Griffin is now of the Dragon," the supposedly messianic Gary Lee sorta shouts. "His rage is the breath of the Dragon!" their leader rants. "And his fire shall consume the infestation that has crippled America!" As I’ve been reporting, the deeper we get into this thing, the more of a liability Haim becomes. And this is definitely an example of what I've been referring to. As Gary Lee yells about Griff’s ‘fire’ and ‘rage,’ Haim stands next to him looking like he’s trying to remember whether he set his VCR to record that night’s episode of Charles in Charge. Then, as Gary Lee speaks of the "homeland" their "White Army" will require, Griff puts on an expression that I assume is meant to express his disgust or righteous anger or something. Unfortunately, the best Haim can provide is the sort of dirty look a ten year-old might shoot at a tattling schoolmate. Of course, since he’s the focal point of tonight’s ceremony, you wouldn’t think he’d be glaring at the group’s leader. Eventually he remembers that, and Haim allows us to see Griff assuming the demeanor of an average Rollerboy, just so that we get that he doesn’t mean it. There are also more references to the Day of the Rope, again promising us some big payoff that I really have to assume they won’t successfully provide.
We cut to Gary Lee leading a double chorus line of arm-swingin’ Rollerboys out for a, uh, skate. Griffin is, we see, literally at his side. As they wheel down a skating path in slo-mo, some birds planted in their path rise up in the air. This shot if pretty funny to begin with, but the knowledge that it’s meant to impart a feeling of menace makes it downright hilarious. This is all being observed, by the way, by Casey. As usual, she’s just around, here sitting on a bench. Her expression reveals her fears that Griff is starting to feel at home with the gang. Or maybe the camera just caught Arquette worrying about the direction of her acting career.
Next we see Griff and Bango making their rounds. We also hear a radio broadcast noting that Gary Lee’s attorneys are demanding an apology from the Mayor for calling Gary Lee a "gang czar." Considering that the Rollerboys are often involved in street shootings and regularly seen walking down the street carrying automatic weapons, I’m not sure what the basis of their demands is. Still, I guess we’re meant to ‘get’ that the Official Establishment is helpless before the wily gang leader.
Anyhoo, Griff and the rifle-toting Bango enter none other than Pinky’s shop. They’re here for his monthly protection payment. (Actually, considering that he’s gotten a free truck from the group, he has the least call to complain.) Pinky tries to schmooze the two, especially his ol’ pal Griff. Then he pleads poverty. Griff, however, knows where he keeps his stash of cash and grabs it. Still, Pinky must be taught a lesson. "I’m sorry about this, Pinky," Griff reports. Then he grabs three small plastic containers, one with tomatoes, one with grated cheese and one with black olives and drops them to the floor. (Despite the fact that the containers are quite evidently plastic, they foley in the sound of breaking glass here!) Wow, Griff, you bastard. Well, that’s a lesson Pinky won’t soon forget. He should just be happy he lived through this rampage. The two Rollerboys then throw Pinky a scare by leveling their guns at him, before bursting out in laughter and taking their leave.
In fact, Griff seems to be fitting in pretty well. We see the group skating over a bridge. Then we see Griff serving soup to urchins from one of the Rollerboys’ mobile kitchens, all while Bango hands out free Rollerboy comic books (!). Then we get the inevitable ‘Confrontation with Speedbagger’ as the latter strolls down the street and spots Griff in his new regalia. Griff goes to remove his Official Rollerboy Sunglasses™, but Speedbagger stops him. "Leave ‘em on, boy," he says. "I know what hate looks like." (Wow!) Then Speedbagger moves on as Griff hangs his head in shame. I guess. Actually, it just looks like he’s moping. But with Haim moping have to convey a lot of different stuff.
Then we see Casey skating around in a cowgirl outfit. She sure has a lot of clothes for someone living in a Dystopian Future. She rolls up to Griff, grabs his Official Rollerboy Sunglasses™ and skates off. He follows and they end up in an alley. It’s hear that Casey reveals that she’s a cop. In my lone moment of empathy with Griff, he bewilderingly asks the seemingly teenage girl how old she is. (Actually, Arquette is three years older than Haim, although she doesn’t look it.) "It’s my job to help you," she reports, "not f**k you." Well, what a charming little lady you are, Ms. Pottymouth. Anyway, I have a feeling she won’t be able to escape her scripted fate in this regard. And believe me, you have my sympathy. She tells him that his assignment is to concentrate on the Mist house. "The Mist house could take me months," he moans. "It’s like religion with these guys." (?!)
The two are interrupted as Gary Lee suddenly appears – people are constantly ‘suddenly appearing’ here – in a snazzy two-seater Rolls convertible that has no business being in this stupid movie. As cover Casey through herself into a lip-lock with our macho, studly hero. I don’t know what Arquette got paid for tonguing Haim, but it wasn’t enough. I do, however, know what I got for watching her do so. Indigestion. Meanwhile, Gary Lee looks on in a manner that can only be described, and I’m not kidding, as jealous. And I don’t think he’s jealous of Griff, if you know what I mean.
Griff drives off with Gary Lee. Here we get (yawn) Casey’s backstory. It’s not enough that she’s a cop, no, she has to have had a brother was died as a member of the Rollerboys. Gee, the movie works so much better now that we know Casey’s ‘motivation.’ We also learn about all the things Gary Lee’s bought with the money rolling in, including a power plant and some old navy yards. (I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of these later.) The we get the Faustian moment where Gary Lee offers to give Griff what he’s always wanted: An actual college education. OK, I always try to be fair in these reviews, although normally I don’t have much to be fair about. Even so, the idea of a hero tempted by the idea of receiving an education is unusually subtle and believable. So I’m giving them that.
Griff confirms that he’s Gary Lee’s man (narc!), although he notes that "I can still kick your ass ‘blading." Of course, such a direct challenge to the very essence of one’s manhood cannot be ignored, and soon the two are off and racing. This is yet another of those inexplicable moments in which the filmmakers apparent belief that nothing captivates an audience like watching dudes inline skate becomes manifest. The race ends in another of the film’s overtly homoerotic moments (and I’m not one to toss that word around every time two male characters are buddies), as the two giggle and all but fall into each other’s arms.
Anyway, Gary Lee is finally ready to show his buddy the Very Heart of the Rollerboys’ operation. It’s the secure trailer/bunker where they make the Mist. This has a personalized handprint lock that only Gary Lee can open. (Yet just a moment ago he was saying that they ran three shifts a day, seven days a week. Which means that Gary Lee has to drive over to the trailer every eight hours, every day of the week! I don’t know, that seems sort of inefficient.) Here we get another nice touch, which is the idea that Mist was invented by the Chinese government to pacify their subjects. Gary Lee has only bought the franchise rights, and, like Coca-Cola, the Chinese allow him to ‘bottle’ it, but don’t give him the formula for how to make it. Instead, they ship him the ingredients, which they then mix together.
Bango shoves Griff into a wheeled office chair and gives him a tour of the cramped production area. This is actually a nice bit of acting by actor Pellegrino. He invests Bango with an actual sense of humor here, making the character a bit more fleshed out. As dumb as the movie is, this is the first moment where I felt that if the script were tightened up and Haim dropped from the cast, the movie might at least have been semi-successful. (The skating thing would also have to go, needless to say.) In fact, I wish as an experiment I could see an alternate universe’s version of this, one in which Pellegrino played Griff. It would be interesting to see just how much the film would have been improved by removing its single most obvious flaw.
As a last resort, the machine includes a mechanism that runs acid through the works and destroys all the evidence, flushing everything down into the sewers. Gary Lee tells Griff that he’ll eventually get bunker duty, but for know he’ll be in charge of perimeter security. He then passes Griff a big wad of cash, his first week’s pay.
Griff visits Speedbagger, having bought him gift. He also shows him the fancy-schmancy mobile home he bought to replace the tent he and Miltie used to sleep in. Speedbagger returns the present, though, and tells Griff to move the trailer off his property. See, Griff is gaining the World but blah blah blah. Griff mopes a little (canny acting choice, Corey Haim) and then steps inside. He begins to show Miltie the books he’s bought to start him on the Road to Education. However, Miltie’s acting poorly -- in more ways than one -- and it’s obvious we’ve arrived at the juncture of the plot when Griff learns his brother’s become a Mist junkie. See the previous note about gaining the World, etc.
Troubled, Griff makes a moonlight stop over at Casey’s apartment. I guess we’re not supposed to wonder about how the heck he would know where she lives. Anyway, she answers the door, dressed in a robe. I’ve paused the film here to write this, and I’m a little nervous about restarting it. I mean, good grief, that last thing I need to see is some sort of sex scene featuring Corey Haim. And I mean, look at the set-up here. OK, here we go, let’s keep our fingers crossed.
She sees he’s Emotional Vulnerable (nonononono) and invites him in (NONONONONO). After a minute SHE LEANS IN FOR A KIS… AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!
You know, I feel no obligation to actually watch this. And if Andrew thinks I do, then I politely invite him to sit on his thumb and rotate. Thanks for the movie, ya sadistic bastard. Yuck, even in fast forward I can see there’s a bit where Arquette puts Haim’s fingers in her mouth and (bleeeeech) sucks on them. And, and, now she’s pulling down his pants, and I can see his boxer’s, and now she’s, uh, doing him a close, personal favor, and… Oh, the Humanity. Cripes, please, somebody, end it now!
And, praise Jabootu, someone does. It’s Casey, in fact. I guess she only, er, got him going to make her eventual point more clear. Which is that just because she acts all slutty for the Rollerboys doesn’t mean she’s a knock-over. (Personally, I’d have thought of a way to explain all this that didn’t involve putting Little Griff in my mouth, but to each their own.)
Oh, and I’m not suggestion anything here, but the last person to kneel down before a sitting Griff like Arquette does here was Gary Lee, back in his office. Not that I’m drawing any connections, mind you.
By the way, this has all been monitored by Black Cop/White Cop, who have been hanging around the periphery of things throughout. (Again, typical bad movie stuff: These guys keep popping up but we’re never told their names.) They had bet on whether Griff would actually slide into home plate, and Black Cop is annoyed at losing. "I should have figured that wussy couldn’t seal the deal," he mutters, and I had to wonder is this was a scripted line for the character or an ad lib made about Haim that they decided to keep in the film.
Cut to Griff serving Miltie breakfast. The Rollerboys have some sort of dangerous activity going on later that night, we learn. After learning this we cut to the B-13s having some kind of street party. (Obviously they’re much more low-rent than the Rollerboys. No merry-go-rounds, no half naked mermaids and they don’t even inline skate! Low lame!) Then… Then I started laughing like Dwight Frye in Dracula. For, yep, here come the Rollerboys, rolling down the street in SUPER-OMINOUS SLOW MOTION!!! I swear, I still don’t get the skating thing. Who thought that scenes of people skating were so powerful to the human psyche that they could even suggest menace? At this point I’m waiting for Maxwell Smart to announce sorrowfully, "If only they had used their skating for Niceness instead of Evil."
And so they come a’skatin’, still in synchronized slow-mo, automatic rifle at port. Luckily the rival gang has failed to post sentries (!). They did have create a barricade of oil barrels, but as Griff proved earlier, any inline skater worth his stuff can just launch himself five or six feet into the air at will, even in slow motion. (Of course, the off-camera ramps probably don’t hurt.) Also, the idea that one can hurtle through the air, after many of your comrades have landed before you, and spray around automatic weapon fire without mowing down some of your own guys seems sort of…dubious. Still, I guess that’s just how good these guys are.
I’m not kidding, pretty much this entire sequence is shot in slow-mo, and it ain’t helping. Of course, the B-13s fall like wheat while the Rollerboys remain impossible to hit, even at close quarters and even when their opponents are using shotguns. There’s various ‘cool bits’. Gary Lee’s gun runs out of ammo and he’s approached by a B-13, so he sinks a knife into the guy’s crotch. (Which is a rip-off of the rather better Southern Comfort.) Bango fires into a parked car behind some rival gangbangers, resulting in the obligatory Unlikely Massive Explosion. Which then causes the Badly Filmed Stuntman On Fire gag. And we do see that one Rollerboy has had his leg blown off, via the innovative stick-the-rest-of-your-leg-into-this-hole-where-we-can’t-see-it technique. Well, he’ll never skate again. Better just shoot him.
We also see Griff collide into a guy and knock him over. Of course, he’s Our Hero, so he’s not killing people left and right. Still, even this two-second bit is funny. First, the idea that a guy colliding with Corey Haim and Haim not being the one to go down is sort of patently silly. Second, Griff wasn’t really going fast, meaning that the guy standing on inline skates managed to push over the guy wearing boots. This, again, doesn’t seem like the way things would likely go. Griff also lets a woman and a kid escape. Bullwinkle sees this. Never having trusted Griff’s conversion to the Rollerboys, he derides our hero’s lack of kill-crazy attitude. Bango breaks up things up, but the scene serves to remind us that Griff has an enemy in the ranks.
The next morning we see Griff having a pre-dawn meeting with Casey on a lonely but photographic beachfront skating path. Here, of course, we get a *sigh* character moment, the one we’ve been waiting for ever since somebody mentioned Casey’s deceased brother. She expresses her grief (briefly, thankfully) and he whispers he’s sorry and we peer into their very souls and see that they are Falling in Love.
Later we see Bullwinkle hauling a ‘comically’ protesting Miltie in. He’s failed his urine test. (!!) Griff tries to protect, but he’s being played by Corey Haim and so he can only stand there and watch as Gary Lee’s suddenly appears – people are always ‘suddenly appearing’ in this movie – and delivers a swinging slap at Miltie’s face. Then Gary Lee tells Miltie to be strong, Miltie apologizes (!), the two hug (!!) and they walk off-camera together so that Griff can woefully ponder the fact that Gary Lee has such a stronger relationship with Miltie than he does. By the way, when Gary Lee said he was "really strict" about using Mist, I thought he meant more than "I’ll really slap you a good one."
Troubled, Griff goes to see Speedbagger. You’d really think he’d know by now not to do so while wearing his Rollerboy coat, but there you go. This is a great moment because Haim tries to act here and can’t pull it off. He just looks like a guy doing a bad Columbo impression. "Don’t hate me," Griff asks, although he fails to finish the sentence with ‘because I’m vacuous." Speedbagger is a Wise Minority Member, however, and so he inevitably responds "I don’t hate anybody, boy. It does more harm than good." And, to our horror, we realize that Speedbagger’s about to cut loose with a Big Speech. "It’s the root of all evil," he continues, although that seems to be overstating things a bit.
"Evil is goddammed tempting, ain’t it?" he proceeds, all with wistful Inspiration Speech music playing behind him. This goes on for a bit more, but goes nowhere in particular, and then Griff leaves. Meanwhile, we spot an evilly grinning Bullwinkle watching all this. He then bites into an apple in a bit apparently meant to be fraught with menace. I know it’s hard to envision the biting of an apple being meant to function that way, but I think that’s what they were going after. I can even imagine the director telling the guy playing Bullwinkle to "bite into the apple and then chew in a real, you know, ominous way."
Cut to Gary Lee having a private powwow with Griff in the latter’s mobile home. He’s heard disturbing rumors about Girff’s lack of heart, and decides that a test is in order. So we cut to the outside rollerblading rink where Griff’s initiation ceremony was held. The guys are skating in a circle, beating on a civilian with a bag over his head. (Three guesses where this is going.) Even Griff gets some licks in, although maybe he’s just trying to save the guy from being by somebody who could actually hurt him. Griff is all whoopin’ it up, like a white boy in the audience of the old Arsenio Hall show. Of course, this sudden bloodlust on Griff’s part makes absolutely no sense, but I guess we needed to see it to make the coming payoff all the bigger.
Oh, by the way:
Things I Learned:
Eventually the guy does fall, however, and Bango calls for an even more severe beating. A bunch of guys jump down and continue to hammer away on the guy. Finally, the victim is pulled upright, the hood comes off, and…it’s Speedbagger! My gosh! What a surprise! (Actually, the surprise is that Speedbagger would have enough of a face left at this point that you’d know who he is. Hilariously, though, he shows only minor bruising and a small cut or two.) Haim tries to project some sort of emotional response to all this, but doesn’t get very far. Meanwhile Bullwinkle heckles him. "You touch him again," Griff promises, "and I’ll kill you." Bullwinkle laughs, and frankly so did I. This might be the least frightening threat in cinema history.
Miltie, who somehow was on the scene – people are always ‘somehow on the scene’ in this movie – rushes out as the rest of the Rollerboys skate off. He berates Griff, and we see that he Finally Understands what the Rollerboys represent. Speedbagger proves to be in bad shape, which is odd. I mean, he took almost every blow to the face and head, and yet we’ve seen very little evidence that he was much damaged in that area. Anyway, the brothers are next seen hovering over Speedbagger, who’s at home (I think) and hooked up to some medical equipment. Or maybe he’s in a really gloomy hospital room. (Dystopian Poorly Lit Hospital Rooms…of The Future!)
We close in enough to actually see the patient. He’s now wearing rather more bandages and stuff than you’d have thought were called for, given what he looked like earlier. Weak, he calls for Griff, who moves in close to hear his friend’s last words. (I’m just guessing, mind you.) Speedbagger warns the two that they must leave town. This is apparently one of those parts written explicitly for the audience. "Hey, the audience might begin wondering why the guys don’t just leave town," somebody might have said. "Don’t worry," another may have responded, "we’ll have Miltie state that they would be hunted down if they did." And so they do.
Cut to Griff meeting with Casey. He’s explaining that he’s decided to cut and run and hope for the best. Here we get deeper into the "Casey’s dead brother" thing. Griff invites her to come with them, but she’s set on bringing the Rollerboys down. Then they kiss (bleeech) and there’s a nauseating insinuation that they’ve had sex, although at least we didn’t have to see any of it. Anyway, the next morning Griff is sleeping in Casey’s bed (ick!) and she’s in the shower. (Movie Shorthand: She’s not with him and we hear the water running.)
There’s a knock on the door and groggy Griff goes to answer it. He opens it up and it’s Bullwinkle. (Griff opens the door even after looking through the peephole!) Meanwhile, Casey, who’s deep undercover and is known to sleep around with the Rollerboys, has left her detective’s badge sitting out on her foyer table (!!). On the other hand, she also had sex with Griff, so we know her mind doesn’t work right. Griff notices the badge after Bullwinkle *gasp* sits down right next to the table it’s on. Oh, the suspense.
Bullwinkle is a moronic putz, but he finally notices the badge when he puts his hand over it (!) while standing up. Enraged, he pulls out a gigantic .44 magnum revolver while Casey ineffectively – in a whole number of ways – cowers behind manly stud Griff. Of course, he doesn’t immediately shoot them, because then they would be dead. Instead he decides to humiliate them a little first. Then Black Cop bursts in. Bullwinkle grabs Casey and threatens to kill her. Black Cop laughs, and Bullwinkle realizes Something Important about him but is shot and killed by the coming-from-behind White Cop before he can spill the beans. Hilarously, it’s tough cop Casey who all freaks out and manly studly Griff chases after her to lend comfort.
Soon the body is being carted out. Jaworsky shows up, telling them to dump the corpse in an alley, thus making it look like Bullwinkle was killed by the B-13s. Then the detective puts pressure on Griff, whom he calls ‘Ramrod’ (!! – although there is one connotation I can think of…), to stay the course. Griff remains (in)firm, though, and stills plans to go. However, back home he finds Miltie sick from using Mist. As he ministers to the lad, which involves holding the boy’s head in his lap and stroking his hair – I’m not saying nothin’ – Gary Lee and Bango show up. He’s obviously suspicious about Bullwinkle’s death, but tells Griff he’ll be taking the deceased’s shift in the Mist ‘kitchen’ the next day.
Griff calls Casey, but the call is answered by Black & White Cop. They tell him Casey’s busy, and he explains about how he’ll have access to the kitchen the next day. See, with him the sole guy on shift, there’d be no one else to throw the acid switch when the cops show up. Then it’s just "Book ‘em, Danno." The next day Gary Lee and Bango arrive at the kitchen to let the waiting Griff inside. In one of those embarrassing product placement moments, we see that Bango is carrying a box of Dunkin’ Donuts. Perhaps this explains their lost market share to Krispy Kreme.
The plan starts going awry when Gary Lee explains that Bango will be walking Griff through his shift. Oh, no, and the cops are due at noon sharp! And so the two are locked inside, which at least allows us to be amused by the still honestly funny Bango. Boy, could this film have used another half hour of that guy. I mean, we’re not talking Buster Keaton here or anything, but, you know, the one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind yada yada.
Next Griff picks up a bag with a big ‘ol Skull ‘n’ Crossbones logo. "What’s this," he asks. Actually, this bad was noticeably present the first time Griff was brought into the Kitchen. Only the movie wasn’t ready to reveal the contents of it then, so Griff didn’t ask about it. Now, with the (thank goodness) climax finally approaching, it’s time. And the Answer Is…. "That is The Rope," Bango explains. It’s an additive that, mixed with Mist, makes the user of the drug sterile (!). This, of course, explains why Gary Lee is "really strict" about Rollerboys not using the stuff. It’s also, Bango points out, Gary Lee’s "Final Solution." Gee, like the Nazis had. Now I get it.
And so we while away the hours in the company of Bango, who at least is entertainingly evil. For instance, we see him paying off one of the adorable tykes who run their drugs. "With kids like this," he tells Griff, "give them a little extra because they’re kind of cute." (This is, fortunately, one of the few times in the film in which such a remark carries doesn’t smack of any sexual connotation.) We get a little montage, backed by a generic and, I swear, very ‘80s pop tune. Meanwhile, starting at 10:30 (in the a.m.), Black & White Cop infilitrate the compound and begin knocking out sentries, something they continue to do for the next hour and a half (!!). We know, because there’s a clock we keep cutting to. You know, this is sort of a big job for two guys. I mean, this bust is meant to bring down the entire Rollerboy organization. Couldn’t Jaworsky round up more manpower?
The cops break into the hanger and shout through the armored door (which oddly you can hear through) for Griff to back away from the door. Griff picks up a convenient lead pipe (??) which is just sitting there as an enraged Bango advances on him. In the film’s most unlikely moment, Griff puts the huge dude down, although he’s too much of a wuss to hit him again after he falls to the floor. Oh, wait, he does try it, only to get kicked. OK, that I’m buying. Anyhoo, the tussle goes on much too long to believe (since Griff would be whacked the first time Bango laid a hand on him), and during the brawl Bango manages to hit the switch that activates the acid. Good one, Griff. One job and you blow it, ya loser.
Sadly, if predictably, just as Our Wimpy Hero faces death the door blows and Black & White Cop shoot down the film’s sole entertaining character. Good-bye, Bango, and thank you, man. You did your best, and we all appreciate it. However, *gasp*, it turns out that Black & White Cop are corrupt, and they plan to kill Griff and steal all the cash sitting in the Kitchen. See, no one else knows what’s going on, because the two intercepted Griff’s call to Casey. Remember? Never mind, that’s what happening in any case.
Casey suddenly appears – people are always ‘suddenly appearing’ in this film – and blows away Black & White Cop. That’s the third time in less than ten minutes that one of the two leads was moments away from death only to have their attackers blown away at the last possible second. Good script, guys.
Jaworsky enters with more cops. Then they all leave. Just when I was wondering why Griff was suddenly wearing his rollerblades – I mean, he’s heading over to the police station with the others – we get out answer. Unsurprisingly, it’s of the IITS variety. For Gary Lee suddenly appears – people are always ‘suddenly appearing’ in this movie – backed by a bunch of his men and holding Miltie hostage. Get it? We’re going to get some final chase thing here, and that’s why Griff needed to have his skates on, but that made no sense and so they just had him appear in shot with them on and hoped we wouldn’t think about it. Which I did.
In a scene that’s like a Bugsy Malone version of the Powers Booth/Nick Notle confrontation in Extreme Prejudice, Griff and Gary Lee have one of those "I thought I could trust you but I couldn’t/You’re EEE-vil" exchanges. Anyway, he wants the Mist, because, I guess, it’s the evidence against him, only I thought the Mist was all destroyed because Bango hit the acid switch, and anyway Gary Lee is holding a hostage in front of numerous cop witnesses, and…oh, never mind.
So Miltie bites Gary Lee in the face -- don’t ask -- and a firefight breaks out between the cops and the Rollerboys, and – big surprise – Gary Lee skates off in hot pursuit of our fleeing hero. It’s utterly appropriate to Griff’s less than epic status as a hero, by the way, that Gary Lee ends up chasing him during the climax rather than the other way around. And so the two race, mano a Haimo, out in the Navy Yard. This is shot through a pink filter (Aiiieeee!! More colored filters!!), for little apparent reason. At least the camera isn’t tilted. They even runs up some stairs in their skates (!), ending up racing around the third floor catwalks of a warehouse. I’m assuming this is so that Gary Lee can fall his death at some point, probably in slow motion and going "NOOOOOOOO!" in a slurred fashion. But we’ll see.
Needless to say, this is the Big Skating Climax, and the warehouse has plenty of pillars to skate around and ramps to jump and so on. Gary Lee keeps shooting at Griff, which is ridiculous because one guy on skates is never going to hit another guy on skates with a pistol. I think they’re just doing this so that we can see him run out of bullets so as to explain why he’ll end up fighting Griff hand-to-hand. By the ways, they’re still shooting through that pink filter. And I still don’t know why.
So they head back outside. My bad, I guess Gary Lee won’t be falling off a balcony in slow motion after all. Still, the chase continues. Gary Lee (who I don’t think will be running out of bullets after all, as he’s already fired a good twenty shots, meaning he has one of those magical firearms that never runs out of ammo) fires a bullet into an acetylene tank, and it goes all boom, knocking Griff – or a stuntman facsimile thereof -- off his feet. Why, yes, in slo-mo, now that you ask.
He gets back up when Miltie suddenly appears – people are always…oh, you know. He follows the two on foot. They head back into another warehouse, and Gary Lee closes the door, blocking Griff’s escape. Here we actually see Gary Lee sliding a fresh magazine into his weapon, so I guess they won’t be doing the out of bullets thing after all. Then the chase recommences, until Griff grabs a convenient vertical pole and performs a little Gymkata action, swinging roundhouse on it and smashing right into the closely following Gary Lee. Miltie, meanwhile, has crawled in through a window and tosses Griff Gary Lee’s pistol.
Here actor Haim tries to project an icy rage, which involves curling his lip, as if he’s battling over cold-bloodedly murdering Gary Lee. Needless to say, no one is convinced by this. Miltie yells for him to do the deed, and Gary Lee, as villains always do in this situation, warns that Griff had better do it because otherwise he’ll come back and get him. Now, I can’t believe that I even have to write this, because everyone who’s reading this knows what happens next. Griff proves the Purity of his Soul by not shooting his helpless foe. Then Gary Lee, who has every reason to wait things out, covertly goes for a weapon – in this case his knife, which was established in the raid on the B-13s – and forces Griff to give the audience what presumably we’re all hoping for. (Actually, here we’re more likely hoping that Gary Lee kills Griff than the other way around.)
Only instead, and I have to admit, they surprised me, Griff manages to smack Gary Lee down with the pistol instead of killing him. (Here I hit the pause button.) Well, OK, you avoided the big cliché. I’m still saying they’re not going to let Gary Lee live out the movie, though, so I say they repeat the scenario, only with a Suddenly Appearing Casey saving Griff at the last possible second by shooting Griff during a repetition of the above. OK, ready? Cue ‘play.’
So we cut to Gary Lee being wheeled out (literally – why wouldn’t they take his skates off?) by Jaworsky. However, he politely waits long enough for the villain to address the nicely assembled Griff, Miltie and Casey. Gary Lee taunts Griff by more or less saying that, all together now, you should have killed me when you had the chance. Then he ducks into the cop car.
OK, so Gary Lee’s not dead yet. And there’s still only a minute and a half left of screentime. Could it be that they were actually preserving their villain for a sequel?! Bwahahahahahahaha!!! (Besides, even if that was there intention, they should have killed Gary Lee and called the second one, "Prayer of the Rollerboys II: Bango’s Revenge.") In any case, we cut to our three protagonists, along with a suddenly recuperated Speedbagger, all heading up to Oregon in the mobile home. Here we get a reminder of every reason we will be glad to see this movie behind us: Miltie ‘cutely’ complaining, Griff and Casey making out – allowing me to fantasize that Griff would lose control of the wheel and get them all killed – and Speedbagger acting all Black Sidekick-y to the white folks.
Meanwhile -- and yes, they were thinking sequel!! Bwahahahahahahaha!!! -- we see that Gary Lee is living relatively large in prison. In fact, he’s currently meeting with his accountant about expanding the range of his holdings. "I’d like to increase our investments in the Pacific Northwest," he explains. Get it? Oregon? The Pacific Northwest?! Get it?!
Fittingly, they’re afraid we won’t ‘get’ it. So they have Gary Lee’s accountant ask why he’s want to do that. "Because that’s where he’s heading," comes the reply. Oh, I get it. Pacific Northwest. And Griff’s and company are headed up to Oregon. Thanks for spelling it out for us.
And so back to the mobile home, rolling down the highway. Our Heroes talk about how their troubles are behind them. This is meant to be ironic foreshadowing, but hell, they’re right. Because anyone who’s ever seen this – admittedly, a rather select group – knows there’s no way in heck that there’s ever going to be a sequel to this piece of crap.
Hmm, unless John Travolta gets
interested in the project…
Another ‘80s-ish trait that marks the film is a bizarre defeatism about America’s future. Hollywood reacted to Ronald Reagan’s forthright anti-Communism in two ways.
The little guys, independents like Carolco and especially Cannon (which was notably run by recent immigrants, who may have been less wary of wearing their patriotism on their sleeves) made action flicks that played into a resurgent national pride. Shoestring producer Cannon made a series of explicitly anti-communist Chuck Norris features such as Invasion USA and the Missing in Action series. They also made the prescient anti-terrorist flick Delta Force, itself perhaps Norris’ funniest movie. Sniffing critics lambasted these pictures as cheap wish fulfillment. However, since that’s what they were intended to be, their umbrage didn’t much have much effect.
Carolco’s movies were similar but more upscale. They were the makers of First Blood, one of the few films outside of the Rocky series that were successful for star Sylvester Stallone. The first film was a typical Viet Nam Vet on a Rampage deal. When that made money, though, the character was amped up and took a page from Cannon. The first sequel, which bore the goofy title Rambo: First Blood Part II, was basically a bigger budgeted version of Norris’ hit Missing in Action, made the previous year. In both movies the action lead went back to Viet Nam and kicked some Commie ass, as we should have done the first time.
Three years later, after having made such notorious crapfests as Cobra and the hilarious arm wrestling epic Over the Top, Stallone returned to safer territory with Rambo III. In a movie that undoubtedly plays a bit different today, Rambo travels to Afghanistan to help plucky rebels kick the Russians out of their country. (Thanks, Rambo.) One of film’s more memorable parade of ridiculous moments had Our Hero shooting down an armored Soviet helicopter with a bow and arrow.
Fittingly, not to mention predictably, Stallone rode that horse until it dropped dead. Even before Rambo III, Stallone interjected the theme into his other series with Rocky IV. (I don’t know who came up with the titles for Stallone’s movies, but the man was a genius.) In this gutbuster we get a Soviet boxer so evil that he literally kills Rocky’s pal Apollo Creed in an exhibition match.
The film is marvelously bad, and although I haven’t seen it since it was released nearly twenty years ago, I still have many clear memories of its more laughable moments. I’m especially partial to Dolph Lundgren, here sporting an especially risible Russian accent, warning Rocky that: "I must destroy you." Still, aside from being funnier than all these other movies put together, it was also the most hypocritical. For the vast majority of its running time, the film attempts to whip us into a frenzy of anti-Commie bloodlust, and in about the most primitive manner imaginable. Then Stallone has the gall, right after polishing off the Russian goliath, of course, to come out and give a moronic speech about how people had to learn to live together in peace. (!) Imagine this same scenario, right now, only with Rocky fighting a radical Muslim boxer rather than a Soviet one. It’d play about the same.
(Of note is the fact that action god Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t bother making topical anti-commie movies. Even early in his career he mostly stuck to sci-fi and fantasy flicks. His only film to involve the Soviets was Red Heat, in which Arnie himself was a heroic Russian cop. This lack of topicality might explain why his star lasted longer.)
That was the little guy, however.
The other reaction came from the Hollywood establishment. Like all the Leftist groups that considered themselves a part of the country’s Intelligentsia, they reacted to Reagan and his message with a visceral hatred. The President was, they proclaimed, at the same time both a doddering old fool and a warmongering menace.
Indeed, I had a friend in high school cut from the same cloth. When I joined the Naval Reserves, he told me that I’d be killed in one of the many wars Reagan was sure to start. Then, when Reagan was two years into his second term, he regularly expressed his fears that Reagan would ‘suddenly realize’ that he hadn’t started a war yet and that he’d quickly proceed to do so while he still had the chance. (My friend Andrew Muchoney and I used to laugh about this, picturing the sleeping Reagan rearing up from a sweating, troubled sleep and shouting "Noooooo!" as he realized he’d forgotten to start his wars.) And no, none of this was meant in the least ironically.
One thing in particular they loathed was Reagan’s ‘unsophisticated’ and, they thought, dangerous belief that our system was better than the Soviet Communist one. Even worse was his ‘childish’ certainty that ours was destined to win out over theirs. Much hissing and mocking snideness followed Reagan’s speech at Oxford University, in which he famously predicted that Communism, especially of the Soviet style, "will end up on the ash heap of history." (The same people now hate Reagan all the more because he was right.)
This was all considered to be propaganda of the lowest and most degraded order. (Hollywood believes that propaganda is a tool that more properly lies with them.) And so terms like ‘jingoism’ and ‘bigotry’ flew thick. Moreover, project arose that started refuting Reagan’s mad vision. This was the official Hollywood response.
I’ve noted Rocky IV, and it’s grotesque attempt to have its jingoism and eat it too. What I didn’t mention was that the film was produced, not by Carolco or Cannon, but by major studio MGM. Whether the studio added the blatant final note of moral relativism or, as perhaps a Cannon would not, merely allowed the filmmakers’ to add it themselves, is moot. The fact is that they only allowed themselves to make this actually jingoistic nonsense, and all the profits attendant there from, by grafting on an ending that utterly violates the spirit of the rest of the film. Just could they face their colleagues on the cocktail circuit while sniffing at the lowbrows at Cannon.
Meanwhile, to counter Reagan’s bizarre assertions that the US was stronger than the USSR, a series of projects arose. One was Red Dawn, made smack in the middle of Reagan’s term of office. In this, the Soviets militarily invade the country and take over. Written by well-known militarist John Milius, Red Dawn certainly had its right-wing elements, including the Soviets’ use of gun registration records to hunt down those Americans owning weapons. (Although this was a logical idea, given the circumstances.) Still, in the long run the film’s about the United States falling to the Russkies. Hollywood was letting us know that, if the issue was forced, as Reagan seemed to be doing, it was the Soviets who would come out on top.
This was the same message of TV’s heralded telepic The Day After. This recorded the devastation resulting from a nuclear exchange between us and the Soviets. The producers and the ABC network tried to cover their rhetorical rears by persistently noting that the film doesn’t say which side initiated the attacks. Seen from the perspective of out-of-the-loop civilians, in fact, the exchange may well have been caused by a accidental, but still catastrophic systems failure on either side. This was all true, and all beside the point. The fact is that the film was made in 1983, during Reagan’s Presidency, because it was thought that his supposedly mindless aggressiveness was putting both us and the Soviets in a position where something like this was bound to happen. If we just let the Soviets live in peace, this sort of thing need never happen. And we should also realize that any attempt to bring down their government would also result in our own destruction.
Even more pointed was the mini-series Amerika (1987), also telecast on ABC. Here it wasn’t the Soviets whose government collapsed, it was ours. (In other words, if any system were doomed for the ash pile, it was ours – take that, Reagan!) After that the Russians just walk in and take over. The series featured two American best friends, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Urich, and how they deal with things. In the end, believing that the Soviets are unbeatable and really not all that bad, Urich murders Kristofferson to short circuit his planned uprising. While writing this I read some reader reviews of the series at the IMDB, and found my views cogently summed up by one Rosabel:
"It's hard to be sure just what was the motive behind the making of such a confused mess. But I think that people who see it as a cautionary tale are misreading the makers' intent, and forgetting the era it was made in. Coming as it did at the end of the Reagan era, I think it was Hollywood's poke in the eye at the triumphalists among the American Right, a sneering "So you think you're so good?" fantasy of a prostrate, failed America losing out to the hardier, more determined Communists. In that way, it is less a nightmare than a leftist wet dream."
Making this all the funnier was when the Berlin Wall came down a mere two years after this tale of Soviet triumphant.
Anyway, this is yet another way in which Prayer of the Rollerboys seems a product of the ‘80s. Although it’s true that the Soviet Union is never mentioned, and that a then-trendier Japan was more prominent. Still, assuming as I do that the original script was written in the Reagan era, and rewritten to deal with the subsequent fall of the USSR, this is all part and parcel with the ‘Fall of the US’ trope common to that period.
There are other, less ideological antecedents to our subject. The most obvious one is Walter Hill’s cult classic The Warriors. Indeed, I’ve envisioned an entertaining fantasy in which Hill was given the idea for the Rollerboys as one of the gangs in that movie, only to turn it down as too goofy. Embittered, their creator vowed to bring them to life one day in their own movie. I know this isn’t what happened, but it’s amusing to think about.
Also of note is the Youth Revolution satire Wild in the Streets (1968). A rather more savage piece, the film follows revolutionary rock ‘n’ roller Christopher Jones and he and his cronies – including a very young Richard Pryor – agitate to get the voting age lowered to fourteen. Jones is quickly elected President and forces all the people over 30 into camps where they are forced to take LSD. In the end, Jones realizes that to those under 14 he’s the authoritarian old fogey, and that revolutions are easier to start than to control.
One difference between those films (good) and our film (bad) is that the earlier flicks were nuanced. In The Warriors the heroes themselves are gang members, just ones a little less psycho than most of the others groups. Wild in the Street is too cynical to have heroes. Jones in the protagonist, but he proves as corrupt and evil as the old duffers he muscles out of the way.
Unfortunately, we get none of that here. What if the Rollerboys were a little more shaded? Surely you can craft a group that, in the wake of America’s complete political and economic collapse, is willing to cross some lines to reclaim American greatness without making them into comically EEE-vil racist drug dealers. Not to mention advocates of synchronized skating. Instead, the film’s a tad too cut and dried, a fact exacerbated by, that’s right, the casting of Corey Haim as the hero. Haim is such a drip that they might have been afraid that a more morally ambiguous opponent would inadvertently draw the audience’s favor. I’ve seen this happen, for instance with Lance Henriksen’s scientist bad guy versus the horribly lame heroine Ally Sheedy in Man’s Best Friend.
Well, that’s it. I’ve done my duty, Sergeant, and no one can say I didn’t. Time to lock this one up and throw away the key.
At least until the special edition DVD comes out, that is. I can’t wait to hear the commentary track for this one.
-Review by Ken Begg
Oh, no, there's plenty more lumps o'
coal where that came from!