Thursday, April 1, 2021

#2,547. Skatetown, U.S.A. (1979)

I never got into roller skating growing up; it was a fad that passed me by completely. And based on what I saw in the comedy / musical Skatetown, U.S.A. I don’t think I missed very much.

The roller disco palace Skatetown is one of L.A.’s hottest spots, and their weekly dancing competition draws the best skaters in town. Young hopeful Stan Nelson (Greg Bradford), with the help of his best friend / manager Richie (Scott Baio), might just be good enough to win this week’s dance-off, but gang leader and current champ Ace Johnson (Patrick Swayze) is willing to do anything and everything to ensure he comes out on top again.

The cast gives this 1979 film what little appeal it has, with a bunch of ‘70s Television stars (Scott Baio from Happy Days, Maureen McCormick of Brady Bunch fame, Ron Pallilo, aka Horshack in Welcome Back Kotter, and even the unknown comic, Murray Langston, a regular on The Gong Show, turns up for a scene or two) and some veteran comic actors as well, including Flip Wilson, Ruth Buzzi, and Billy Barty. Nowadays, though, Skatetown, U.S.A. is notable because it marked the screen debut of Patrick Swayze, delivering not what I would deem his finest performance, but playing the role of the heavy with enough charisma to at least keep things interesting.

Yet despite the excitement generated by its cast, Skatetown, U.S.A. comes up considerably short in the comedy department. The jokes, though earnest, are rarely funny (I would call them dated, but that might imply they were funny in 1979). I think I chuckled once, during a scene in which Skatetown’s deranged doctor (Bill Kirchenbauer) is talking to Geraldine, Flip Wilson’s alter-ego (it’s a moment involving a lightbulb that tickled my funny bone). In addition to its lack of laughs, I discovered that watching people roller skate does absolutely nothing for me; not even Patrick Swayze’s smooth moves were enough to hold my attention. As the movie progressed, I actually found myself itching for the contest at the center of it all to begin (it takes the movie an hour to get around to it, shambling aimlessly for the first 60 minutes from one badly timed comedic scene to the next, with no rhyme or reason).

Alas, the anxiety I experienced waiting for the contest to start ultimately had no payoff. When the roller dancing finally started, the film’s already-faltering energy level came crashing down. There are two good musical numbers by Dave Mason, and as a time capsule of late ‘70s disco-mania, the film has its charms, but don’t feel bad if you never get around to watching Skatetown, U.S.A.
Rating: 4 out of 10 (don't bother)

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