Skateland: Film Review

"Skateland" is every coming-of-age-after-high-school movie you've ever seen with a formulaic plot and well-worn characters.

PARK CITY -- The Sundance Film Festival this year is pitching itself as the place where filmmakers can renew the rebellion against the expected and proudly give birth to brave new ideas. So what's Skateland doing in the Dramatic Competition? For an indie film, it's very well made, even rather slick, in fact. But what a thoroughly conventional movie it is. Skateland is every coming-of-age-after-high-school movie you've ever seen with a formulaic plot and well-worn characters.

It probably got shortlisted because several scenes exhibit strong writing and the performances in the main roles are aces. So if nothing else, director Anthony Burns has a solid calling card to show the film industry.

Skateland should fill more festival slots, but it's hard to identify a theatrical audience. Teens tend not to care about filmmakers' reminisces about growing up, and adult fans of indie cinema may cringe at the utter neatness of the storytelling with every plot stand carefully tied up and a swell of music as the lovers share a kiss at fadeout.

Skateland is the name of a roller rink in an East Texas town, circa early 1980s. Yes, it's on the verge of shutting down. Like the movie house in The Last Picture Show, the venue has symbolic value for the film's protagonist, the rudderless Ritchie Wheeler (Shiloh Fernandez). In his job as the rink's manager, he can cling to high school memories of his buddies and hanging out.

Which frustrates the women in his life, neither of whom is his mom. She seemingly can't wait to escape the boredom of the household for other male admirers. No, these women are his younger sister Mary (Haley Ramm) and his sometimes girlfriend Michelle (Ashley Greene). Both prod him to get out of the dead-end town, go to college and make something of himself. Unfortunately, decision-making is not Ritchie's long suit.

When Michelle's brother Brent (one of the film's writers-producers, Heath Freeman) returns to town, he plays the conquering hero. He has raced cycles for a while and been pretty successful at it. An accident wiped out his season. So he joins the partying with Ritchie and his friends but then realizes he's the oldest guy at all the gatherings.

There are other subplots in the script by Burns and the producing Freeman brothers, Heath and Brandon, about Ritchie's parents' crumbling marriage, a gang of goons who wander around threatening everyone and the lady-killer antics of Brent and another buddy, Kenny (Taylor Handley). However, the one involving Ritchie and his kid sister curiously vanishes about midway though the movie. Still the focus always comes back to Ritchie and his reluctance to make any decision about his future -- and therefore his future with Michelle.

The characters are not without dimension, and the young cast makes you care about what happens to at least some of them. But there aren't a lot of surprises unless you count a tragedy that springs up out of nowhere.

Production values don't get much better in an indie film. There is time and a budget for one of those show-off tracking shots to begin the movie, a white-knuckle car chase, on-the-money production and costume designs plus a soundtrack of '80s music.

There will always be coming-of-age films, but they keep getting trickier to make. You've got to have something very fresh and original to say on the subject. Skateland doesn't, so considerable talent got lavished on a tired script.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival
Production companies: Freeman Film in association with Reversal Films
Cast: Shiloh Fernandez, Ashley Greene, Heath Freeman, Taylor Handley, AJ Buckley, Haley Ramm
Director: Anthony Burns
Producer-screenwriters: Anthony Burns, Brandon Freeman, Heath Freeman
Director of photography: Peter Simonite
Production designer: Chris Stull
Music: Michael Penn
Costume designer: Kari Perkins
Editor: Robert Hoffman
Sales: CAA
Rated PG-13, 98 minutes

comments powered by Disqus