Skateland

10 Jan

Title: Skateland
Year: 2011
Director: Anthony Burns
Writers: Anthony Burns, Brandon Freeman and Heath Freeman
Starring: Shiloh Fernandez, Ashley Greene, Brett Cullen, James LeGros, Taylor Handley, Haley Ramm
MPAA Rating: PG-13, violence, some sexuality, language, substance abuse and smoking – involving teens
Runtime: 98 min
IMDb Rating: 4.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 40%
Metacritic: 51

 

Skateland came with some clear similarities to 2009’s Adventureland, and since that was my twentieth favorite film of that year, maybe my expectations were kind of high for me. They came because of the title, the fact that it was set in a small town in the 80’s, the fact that it was about finding yourself; the similarities were obviously there. And it’s a sweet little film, you know, a nostalgic and quite affectionate look at a group of people growing up at that place in that era. The thing is, however, that all of that wasn’t because of the script, which is just full of characters and situations we’ve seen time and time again in many other films, but rather because, at the very least, first-time director Anthony Burns (who also co-wrote the script) is good at crafting an atmosphere that really helped this one achieve its purpose, however so mildly.

The thing is, that’s not really great. I mean when you’re a director that can achieve a sense of atmosphere to nicely compliment a good film then that’s terrific, good for you, but instead in Skateland it felt as though Mr. Burns just wanted to craft something through which he could express all the nostalgia he has for the eighties era and the music and the personalities that came with it and that we’ve grown so accustomed to seeing in many films (the film is even dedicated to John Hughes, master of 80’s teen cinema, for god’s sake!). Shiloh Fernandez, he who starred in the awful Red Riding Hood (which I gave a C- to) stars as Ritchie, a guy who works managing a skating rink but that’s just not really worth investing too much in, since he’s just so uninteresting you’ll get to the point in which you won’t care all that much about what he does.

It’s such a pity that Skateland didn’t turn out to be as great as Adventureland; I wanted to love the small-town business that’s the titular skating rink here as much as I did the titular theme park in that 2009 film; I wanted to love watching those summery images and the antics of these guys as much as I did those of Brennan and Frigo and Joel and Lisa P; and I certainly wanted to be into the love interest of this film, Ashley Greene’s character, Michelle, as much as I loved Kristen Stewart’s Em, when in fact the only resemblance about them is they were both played by actresses in their hiatus’ in between Twilight movies. Michelle and Ritchie are best friends, but the second you know Michelle and Ritchie you’ll know they’re obviously meant for much more than just that, and with Michelle’s older brother Brent they spent an eighties-drenched Texan summer just drinking beer and smoking and having blast. And it’s all good and nice, but it just goes nowhere, it spends too much time on the look to offer just a glance at the things of actual substance.

So I’m kind of torn about whether to recommend this one or not, to know if I liked it somewhat or not. In the end I think I did, barely, I think it’s a competent film. The cinematography is certainly very good, with some really beautiful roller-skating shots done by Peter Simonite on just his second gig as cinematographer (though he cut his teeth as a camera operator on episodes of the gorgeous Friday Night Lights and did second unit work on Terrence Malick’s masterpiece The Tree of Life), but it’s just not great. There was just something off; instead of feeling like a film set in that special place and time, it felt like a cheap rehash, like it was pretending that, and that whole sense of not really grasping your surroundings, and the over-reliance on big hits of the era to get things going, just got me off the whole plot of the film, which wasn’t much to begin with.

Go see Skateland if those kind of Adventureland or Dazed and Confused-esque films are your particular cup of tea. They are mine which is maybe why I’m giving this one a passing grade, but don’t be surprised if, more times than not, you find yourself distracted and just listing the similarities between this film and those, and notice just how basically every single time this film comes on the losing end of such comparison. As you watch Ritchie just being super unambitious at life, going along with Brent, who once seemed to be heading into something good with a motocross career, trying to mask their lack of purpose with partying and girls and more music that clogs the soundtrack here and gets you distracted (though the ‘Funky Town’ tracking shot that introduces the characters is quite good), and realize how, much like its lead character, Skateland too never finds its purpose; it has a character I didn’t really like and a story I didn’t really care for as a consequence, but just enough great atmosphere for me to give it a recommendation grade.

Grade: B-

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