Wednesday, November 23, 2016

VHS WEDNESDAY: SKATEBOARD (1978) with Leif Garrett, Allen Garfield, Orson Bean

Allen Garfield is one of my very favorite character actors of all time. He's one of those guys whose very appearance, however brief, will enliven any movie. (I think my favorite Garfield performance was as Fishbine, the owner of the ambulance company in 1976's MOTHER, JUGS AND SPEED.) SKATEBOARD (aka SKATEBOARD: THE MOVIE) is a rare starring vehicle for him and he makes good use of his inflated screen time. He really milks his lovable loser character for all its worth but you only wish that the screenwriters (one of whom is future Law & Order czar Dick Wolf) gave him better material to work with.

Garfield plays a talent agent who owes his ex-wife a lot of money and a notorious gangster even more. Desperate for some quick cash, he cooks up a scheme to promote a skateboard team after he witnesses their ringleader jump over his car while riding a board. Garfield takes the kids up and down the coast performing in skateboarding exhibitions under the moniker "The Los Angeles Wheels". When his top skater leaves the team abruptly, the youngster Brad (Leif Garrett, yes, Leif Garrett) steps in at the last minute for the big downhill race.

This was made a few years before guys like Tony Hawk and the Bones Brigade made skating cool. Because of that, most of the skateboarding scenes showcase the skaters doing more freestyle types of tricks. Still, the shots of kids skating on downhill courses, in drainage pipes, and in empty swimming pools aren't bad for what they are.

That pretty much sums up the movie.  It's okay for what it is.  It's amiable for the most part, but ultimately it's harmless and forgettable.

Garfield's performance carries the film a long way.  It seems like THE BAD NEWS BEARS was probably the inspiration as it features a foul-mouthed loser in charge of a bunch of kids (except for the fact that these kids, unlike The Bears, are all good at what they do). Garfield's exasperated kvetching while bossing the kids around is good for a few laughs on its own. If only he actually had some legitimate zingers to toss out, the flick could've been a real winner.  espite the weak script, Garfield plays the role as well as you'd expect him to, and most of the kids are naturalistic and appealing.

Since it's a definite product of its time, you can have fun watching it and knowing that they would never be able to get away with some of this stuff nowadays.  or a kid's movie, there's a surprising amount of drug talk early on (a drug dealer tries to sell Garfield some Maui Wowie while he's in the unemployment line) and there's a subplot about Garfield having to keep his star skater from messing around with a younger teammate (you know, because nothing sells a kiddie flick like a couple of statutory rape jokes). I also got a laugh from the scene where the star skater was arrested for drinking and skating. (I'm not kidding.)

As a sports film, SKATEBOARD is predictable and formulaic. Even within that genre, it comes up short as the skateboarding scenes get a bit repetitive after a while. (Future Direct to Video star Chad McQueen was one of the skaters.) Thanks to the detailed vans, short-shorts, and bellbottoms it almost (pardon the pun) skates by on pure '70s nostalgia alone. I mean no matter how patchy and overlong it was, I can't completely hate any movie in which Orson Bean plays himself. – Mitch Lovell

Mitch Lovell is a frequent contributor to the print version of Exploitation Retrospect. He is also the editor of The Video Vacuum and author of several film books including the recent Double Vision: Hollywood vs. Hollywood. He last wrote about THE DOGFIGHTERS for VHS Wednesday.

SKATEBOARD is available from Amazon.

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