“Skatetown, U.S.A.” (1979)
Dir: William A. Levey
MPAA Rating: PG
This is the kind of film that could’ve easily came from one of my dreams after a night out at RollerStop in Kinning Park – though for some this could be a nightmare.
Released at the height of disco’s popularity just before the backlash kicked in, it’s a charming time-capsule of a movie, featuring live performances from GQ and Dave Mason during their hey-day. With that said their appearances seem to be fillers that add nothing to the narrative.
Taking place over the course of one night in the rink, Stanley (Greg Bradford) is there alongside his sister Susan (Maureen McCormick) and friend Richie (Scott Baio) to try to win a roller disco competition – you know it’s the 70s when the prize also includes a moped. After entering he soon finds out he is up against Ace Johnson, the leader of a gang called the West Side Wheelers played by the late Patrick Swayze. What makes things more interesting is that Stanley also develops a crush on Ace’s sister Allison (Katherine Kelly Long).
The concept of a tough, masculine gang being on skates seems a bit out of place especially after seeing a graceful, arguably feminine dance routine as they enter the rink. With that said, Patrick’s performance as their leader is sexy and charismatic – during one sequence he solo dances while whipping the belt off his jeans leaving little to the imagination.
The movie suffers from having too many supporting roles that are either simple stereotypes such as Teri (Judy Landers), a blonde bombshell with less than average intellect, another “Mexican” skater in the competition by the name of Pistol Pete (Gary Hudson) with what looks like a Yosemite Sam Halloween costume and stick-on moustache or by having random roller disco dance routines without main or supporting characters that seem to simply fill up the running time.
Add to that we have the Skatetown Doctor (Bill Kirchenbauer) who suffers from PTSD after his time in Vietnam though it’s played comically which might have been acceptable in 70s, those less so now. As if it were not obvious by what we see on-screen, we are told he is getting crazy by an annoying flashing green light and electronic tone over the movie’s diegetic sound.
Despite all these shortcomings there’s something quite charming about this film – the soundtrack is perfect for its time featuring hits from Earth, Wind & Fire, The Jacksons, Patrick Hernandez, McFadden & Whitehead, Cheap Trick and even a catchy Rolling Stones disco cover by Hounds. Some comedic set ups work too, like a girl waiting what seems to be an eternity for pizza while the late real-life comic Leonard Barr playing himself, comes out with countless one-liners. We are also treated with some stand up from Murray Langston performing one of his Unknown Comic routines, his other ones are definitely worth watching on YouTube.
The set design looks terrific – the flashing lights, wide open rink space make it look like a heavenly place to roller skate in. The feel-good soundtrack which you can also find on Spotify below this review and comic book tone of the film mean I’m happy to forgive it failings. It can firmly be described as a guilty pleasure which also has cult following, perhaps in part due to its hard-to-find nature as it is still yet to have an official release on VHS, DVD or Blu Ray.
“Skatetown, U.S.A” I can best describe as a popcorn film – one where you don’t question the narrative’s realism because there isn’t any. Its pure fantasy as we are reminded towards the very end by one character. Plus the more I think about this film, the more I want to see it again and head to my local roller disco afterwards.