Saturday, April 4, 2009

Roller Boogie (1979)

Reviewed By: Billy

Sometimes in life, we are presented with challenges so great…so monumental…that we know we’ll be changed by them forever. These are the kind of challenges that test true strength and courage; they are the kind of missions that songs like “The Impossible Dream” are written about.

Within minutes of stumbling across a battered VHS copy of Roller Boogie (which I’d been searching out for weeks) and jamming it into my VCR, I knew I’d been presented with the greatest challenge of my life. As images of gawky teens in shorts and tube socks filled the screen, engaged in a roller-skating dance routine set to a Cher disco song called “Hell on Wheels,” I knew someone was challenging me to adequately write about such a film. Could it be done? Could words truly describe this bombastic antique-in-motion, immortalizing every nauseating trend of the late 70s including feathered hair, tight tank tops, hairy shirtless men & gold medallions, sequins-covered apparel, and Linda Blair at her cheerful chubbiest?

The answer is an unequivocal no. Therefore, I present to you a series of images, to be followed be a brief discussion:

People, Roller Boogie is amazing. If the pictures don’t convince you, then you’re a lost cause. This movie is awesome. How such a film could have ever been produced is a wonderful mystery…kind of like wondering how the human heart actually beats; nobody will ever have a satisfactory answer, but who cares? You’re alive and Roller Boogie exists and that’s all that matters.

So, if you’ve ever seen Dirty Dancing then you know the plot…rich girl falls for talented boy from the wrong side of the tracks who teaches rich girl to go for her own dreams and forget about what her uppity parents want. In this case, instead of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey and the lambada, we get Linda Blair and Jim Bray and triple axels on roller skates. Linda Blair was hot off the heels of her first major career debacle, Exorcist II, and Jim Bray is a completely goofy real-life skater making his first (& last!) screen appearance. And roller skates, for you kids, are like Rollerblades with training wheels.

One of the great joys of this movie is that Jim Bray’s character, Bobby James, is dreaming of winning a gold medal in Olympic roller skating. That nobody informs him that roller skating is not and has never been part of the Olympics almost drags this film down to the level of tragedy; thankfully, the blaring disco soundtrack, which was likely dated before the movie even hit theatres, keeps us in Saturday Night Fever-meets-Grease territory. Jim Bray is so completely silly in front of the camera that it would be impossible not to like him; his skinny arms and toothy smile are certainly endearing, if a bit odd for a leading man. And it’s hard not to root for a guy who’s brave enough to skate an emotional solo routine wearing a tight shirt emblazoned with the jeweled initials “BJ.”

Linda, meanwhile, parades through the movie in a jaw-dropping series of 70s fashion disasters that includes spandex, frizzed hair, and colors that are generally only produced by radioactive chemicals. As rich girl Terry, we are asked to believe that every man who lays eyes on her falls instantly in love; along with her ridiculous wardrobe, Linda also happens to be sporting an adorable layer of baby fat that makes her look like a 5-year-old playing dress-up in her crazy aunt’s closet. All of this adds up to one of the most improbable romantic leads in history, which makes her a perfect match with Bray…although their beach make-out scene is a bit scary.

Terry’s flighty mother is played by Beverly Garland, who stars in one of my all-time favorite movies, The Alligator People. Beverly isn’t too bright in this one; after Linda screams at her that all she wants to do is “win a Roller Boogie contest down at the beach” and runs away, her parents spend the rest of the day looking for her. Umm…there’s a giant rink with a neon sign that says “Roller Boogie” on the beach…maybe you should look there?

One thing pictures can’t possibly do justice to is the spectacular dialogue. Here’s just a sample for your pleasure:

Terry: “The Olympics? That’s a lot of bite off.”
Bobby: “Well, I got a big appetite.”

Terry (earnestly): “So what? I’m a musical genius! What a drag! What a bummer!”

Father (angry at Terry): “It’s the skating isn’t it? It’s that insane disco music thing!”

Throw in a sub-plot involving some kind of mafia takeover of the rink, and (of course) wrap it all up in a climactic Roller Boogie showdown, and you really do have a perfect film. Did I complete my mission of describing this often-overlooked gem of disco lights and teen love? No way. But your mission is clear: see this movie, and as Bobby James would say, “Spread the word…the Roller Boogie’s on tonight!”



  1. What in the hell is the matter with you? The images here are nothing short of an assault.

    ..."And it’s hard not to root for a guy who’s brave enough to skate an emotional solo routine wearing a tight shirt emblazoned with the jeweled initials “BJ.”"!

    You have raised the bar again, Billy.


  2. loved this review; i'm almost convinced to see this movie...almost

  3. Wow. Now I must seek this out and be totally...wowed.