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  Skatetown, USA Swayze on wheels, baby!
Year: 1979
Director: William A. Levey
Stars: Scott Baio, Flip Wilson, Ron Palillo, Maureen McCormack, Ruth Buzzi, Greg Bradford, Patrick Swayze, Dave Mason, Billy Barty, Katherine Kelly Lang, David Landsberg, Len Bari, Murray Langston, Bill Kirchenbauer, Denny Johnston
Genre: Musical, Comedy, TrashBuy from Amazon
Rating:  3 (from 1 vote)
Review: It's the late Seventies, baby. Roller discos are all the rage! So strap on your skates and boogie on down to Skatetown, USA, the hottest roller disco in town. Creepy DJ the Wizard (Denny Johnston), outrageously attired in his glittery cape and pink afro (!) spins the latest disco tunes as young skater studs and disco dollies flex their funky stuff on the roller-rink. Tonight's highlight is a skate-dance-off organized by Skatetown's manager Harvey Ross (Flip Wilson) and his diminutive, er, father apparently, Jimmy (Billy Barty). When the latter isn't busy hitting on every honey in hot-pants he sees or dodging his jealous wife. Fast-talking Ritchie (Scott Baio) convinces his reluctant friend Stan (Greg Bradford) to enter the roller-dance contest together with Stan's hot-to-trot kid sister Susan (Maureen McCormack). Only to earn the enmity of a dangerous skater gang (ha!) lead by the leather-clad, not at all gay-looking Ace (Patrick Swayze). Determined to win at any cost, Ace has his hairy homicidal minions employ all kinds of dirty tricks. Raising the stakes even higher, Stan discovers Allison (soap star Katherine Kelly Lang), the lovely, leggy skater angel in white with whom he is instantly smitten, is none other than Ace's sister! Oh, and between numerous rollerskating routines, a bunch of other nonsense goes on...

Seeped in gaudy neon lights, a cheesy late Seventies California ambiance and pounding disco music Skatetown, USA is an almost charmingly ghastly relic of America's short-lived infatuation with roller-disco. The fad spawned a small handful of cinematic cash-ins, from Roller Boogie (1979) and big-budget mega-flop Xanadu (1980) to recently rediscovered and reappraised documentary Get Rollin' (1980). Most of which bombed mightily on release but amassed minor followings among devotees of Seventies kitsch. In that spirit Skatetown, USA benefits from a cast of fondly-remembered Seventies sitcom stars. Among them Happy Days heartthrob Scott Biao (sadly these days better known as a prominent campaigner for President Donald Trump), troubled Brady Bunch starlet Maureen McCormack (shamefully under-used but adorable in pink halter-top and short-shorts), Welcome Back, Kotter's Ron Palillo (as a hirsute homicidal thug who inexplicably lands McCormack's Susan! Boo!) and a young Patrick Swayze whose fame would of course eclipse that of everyone else here. Plus variety show stalwarts Flip Wilson (also playing his own mother – in pink satin drag!), Ruth Buzzi, Billy Barty (veteran of The Wizard of Oz (1939) and with both Ridley Scott's Legend (1985) and Masters of the Universe (1987) in his future - what a career!), Bill Kirchenbauer and Murray Langston as his Gong Show alter-ego the Unknown Comic. And a running gag cameo from ill-fated Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten. As if all that were not enough Skatetown, USA was written by Michael Myers himself: Nick Castle! And edited by Gene Fowler Jr, director of I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) and I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958). Come on!

The hopelessly inane plot boils down to a bunch of disconnected sub-Laugh In style skits, many of which border on the surreal (including Kirchenbauer's antics as a flashback-addled Vietnam veteran doctor!). Inter-cut with random musical interludes involving elaborately choreographed rollerskating routines and an array of genuine standout disco tunes. If you have any fondness for this era of music, the likes of Patrick Hernandez's "Born to Be Alive", Earth, Wind & Fire's "Boogie Wonderland", The Jacksons' "Shake Your Body", Heatwave's "Boogie Nights" (of course) and McFadden & Whitehead's "Ain't No Stopping Us Now", among others, are worth savouring between bouts of inane, nonsensical comedy. The only act that looks out of place is ageing British rocker Dave Mason. Not dissimilar from the rock and roll movies Roger Corman cranked out in the Fifties, or the Beach Party musicals AIP made in the Sixties, the plot is of way less importance than the soundtrack. In his film debut, Patrick Swayze - a trained dancer who had skated competitively - performed his own rollerskating stunts. His belt-wielding roller-dance routine is not half bad albeit camp as all heck. Top-billed Scott Baio and Maureen McCormack are barely in the movie but still exhibit more charisma than vapid ostensible lead Greg Bradford. Between a dull protagonist and the two best known actors frequent absences from the plot (which McCormack later admitted was largely due to the blizzard of cocaine on set) it is perhaps little wonder director William A. Levey keeps cutting to the dance numbers and moronic humour. The result is a turgid mess dipped in disco glitter yet curiously compelling for those who can't help but smile when they hear that soundtrack. It ends with the Wizard announcing Skatetown will soon open venues worldwide. Because roller disco will be around forever. Right?

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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