A 1978 sports drama directed by George Gage, Skateboard kind of sneaks up on you.
Not that it’s a great film, or at times even a good one. The story is simple and occasionally predictable, and some of the performances leave a lot to be desired. But its glimpse into the world of skateboarding in the 1970s, coupled with a spirited turn by veteran Allen Garfield, do their part to make Skateboard a lot more fun than it has any right being.
Hollywood agent Manny Bloom (Garfield) owes money to just about everyone, including his longtime financial backer Sol (Antony Carbone). Desperate for an idea that will make him some fast cash, Manny recruits a group of teen skateboarders to join a newly-formed skate team. Lured in by the promise of fame and fortune, the kids, including Brad (Leif Garrett), Tony (Tony Alva), Jason (Richard Van Der Wyk), and Jenny (Ellen O’Neal), jump at the opportunity
With his team assembled, and with the help of professional nurse Millicent Broderick (Kathleen Lloyd), Manny’s L.A. Racers hits the road. But when Sol orders Manny to pay him back sooner than later, Manny turns up the pressure on the kids, a move that could ultimately jeopardize their chances of winning an upcoming championship, the top prize of which is $20,000.
A lifetime character actor / supporting player, Allen Garfield takes center stage in Skateboard, and does a fine job as Manny, one of life’s losers who accidentally stumbles upon a good idea. When we first meet him, he’s climbing into his beat-up Datsun, begging it to climb the steep hill in front of his house “just one more time” so that he can get to the unemployment office. An overweight, balding gambler who hasn’t paid his ex-wife’s alimony in months, Manny Bloom isn’t your typical movie lead.
And, for that matter, Garfield isn’t your typical star. But he wins us over, dedicating his every waking moment to making the L.A. Racers a legitimate team. He’s a nervous guy, always kind of jittery, yet he takes care of the kids, and even pays them their portion of the prize money every time they win a competition, or show off their skills to a paying crowd.
Even when Manny is pressuring the kids unmercifully, which starts the day after Sol’s bodyguard, played by Sylvester Words, visits Manny in his hotel room and gives him a black eye, we at least understand him, and there isn’t a time when we’re not rooting for this character to get out of this pickle.
Kathleen Lloyd’s Millicent does what she can to talk some sense into Manny, and their scenes together are quite good. When it comes to the kids, the performances are more miss than hit, but most of them were professional skaters, not actors. Tony Alva, an original member of the Zephyr skate team and one of the key personalities featured in the 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z Boys, fares a bit better than Van Der Wyk, whose Jason is the star of the L.A. Racers. The exception is a young Leif Garrett, whose Brad ends up in the spotlight for the film’s finale (Garrett was one of the few teens who had acting experience, and was cast because he could also skate).
There really isn’t much to it story-wise. Skateboard hits all of the standard beats. It’s the scenes in which the skaters are front and center, showing off what they can do, that give the film its energy.
With an assist by Garfield, of course, who in this movie shows that he should have been given a few more shots at being a leading man.
Rating: 7 out of 10