Though it never made quite the impact of other Hollywood sports comedies of the period (THE BAD NEWS BEARS, SLAPSHOT, etc), SKATEBOARD THE MOVIE has still managed to gather a decent following over the years. The first film to actually feature skateboarding as a competitive sport, it also gives recognizable New Jersey-born character actor Allen Garfield (BUSTING, THE FRONT PAGE, NASHVILLE and many others) his first lead role. Originally released by Universal in 1978, Scorpion is now issuing this time capsule proclaiming to be “The movie that defies gravity!” as a Special Edition DVD just in time for the summer, dude!
Divorced, pudgy, down-on-his-luck talent agent Manny Bloom (Allen Garfield) gets a brainstorm when a boy on a skateboard leaps across the hood of his car on the way to the unemployment line. Manny figures he can pay back his full debt (and them some) to his irritated bookie by asking him to front the money to form a championship skateboarding team. Heading to the suburban streets, Manny quickly assembles a group of youngsters including two teenage girls and some haircut-deprived boys ranging in age from 10 to 18, the most skilled being Jason Maddox (Richard Van der Wyk). With their new lime-green and yellow uniforms and a dilapidated school bus (which later gets a spiffy paint job) to escort them, the skateboarding team deemed the L.A. Wheels travel about and quickly make an impression on the public.
As success starts to trickle in, so does trouble. Manny discovers that Jason has been sleeping with one of the team’s lasses, Jenny (Ellen O'Neal) and that his star performer also likes his cans of beer. With the kids’ parents naturally wanting some better adult supervision during touring excursions, Manny hires an inexperienced but affable young woman named Millicent (Kathleen Lloyd) as the team nurse, and the kids take an instant liking to her. As the L.A. Wheels become increasingly better, entering one competition after the other, Manny is slapped with a warning punch in the eye by one of his bookie’s cronies, and just as Jason’s star is shining in the limelight, he decides to jump ship. Will the L.A. Wheels take it all in a tournament worth $20,000 without their top competitor? Will Manny be able to pay back his debt?
I can’t say or not whether SKATEBOARD did the same thing for skateboarding that THE ENDLESS SUMMER did for surfing, since I don’t follow the activity whatsoever. But as a harmless piece of sportploitation with an appealingly dated late 1970s Southern Californian vibe, it’s a fun little film even if you don’t give a damn about skateboards and the dangerous stunts that come with it. This is no BAD NEWS BEARS, as these kids are very talented at what they do and only get better, with the main conflict for this yarn being their relationship with Manny and his efforts to make the team a success while keeping his bookie satisfied. Perhaps the film would be slightly more interesting if they explored a romance between Manny and Millicent (the always charming Lloyd, who drive-in movie fans will remember from THE CAR and IT LIVES AGAIN) or more intervention from the concerned parents about letting their kids travel on the road (something that's only lightly touched upon), but as the film is so evenly paced, such things are forgivable. Plus, it’s a rare opportunity to see Allen Garfield in a lead role, and he holds the picture up well in his typically New York, improvisational-like style (and jokes about him being slightly overweight are a constant).
Leif Garret, who at this time was rising as a teen idol and cast mainly because of that, seems to be a throwaway at first, but his character is instrumental during the climax and he even did his own stunts, so more power to him. If you recognize Sol, Manny’s increasingly impatient bookie, that’s because he’s played by Antony Carbone. Appearing somewhat older by this time, in the previous decade, a younger Carbone had done a number of films for Roger Corman, including A BUCKET OF BLOOD, CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA, THE LAST WOMAN ON EARTH and THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM. Also, look for Gordon Jump (this was shot a year before “WKRP” aired) as one of the concerned parents, Chuck Niles (the lumbering ghoul in TEENAGE ZOMBIES) as an MC, and comedy legend Orson Bean playing himself, doing MC duties during the final competition.
Scorpion is thrusting forth SKATEBOARD THE MOVIE in the hands of eager fans with a new transfer from Universal’s vault elements (complete with opening Universal logo and “When in Hollywood, visit…” after the end credits). Presented anamorphic with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, colors fair very well and detail is extremely sharp, with only some minor instances of grain, debris or light lines most likely due to the budget restraints of the original production. The mono audio track (the soundtrack features some energetic 1970s rock and power ballads from the likes of Dr. John and “Starship” frontman Mickey Thomas) also comes off fine, with no noticeable distortion or other significant shortcomings.
Commencing with a trailer for WHERE THE BOYS ARE ’84 (coming soon to DVD), the disc’s extras include a video interview with Tony Alva (17:03), who played one of the main skateboarders, talking about his experiences making the film and his life today as entrepreneur, still enthusiastic about skateboarding and surfing than ever. Director George Gage has his own video segment (13:16) where he discusses how the film came to be, competing at the box office with a bigger Universal hit (ANIMAL HOUSE) and such tidbits as Paula Prentiss originally being considered for the Kathleen Lloyd role. Alva and Gage are together for a “Bonus Interview” (5:14) where a classic piece of authentic memorabilia from the film is brought out. Alva and Gage are reunited again for an audio commentary, and even without a moderator, they do a great job and their recollections are precise, as Alva points out the names of a lot of the film’s skateboarding extras, and Gage clues us in on some surprise cameos. The original Universal trailer for the film rounds out the extras. (George R. Reis)
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