Manny Bloom (Allen Garfield) is a small time theatrical agent who has fallen on hard times. He is forced to collect his welfare cheque every week, where he is hassled by an acquaintance who tries to sell him marijuana to forget his troubles, but Manny isn't interested: he needs all his wits about him to push through his dilemma. His troubles include not having the cash to pay alimony to his ex-wife, and even more pressing, his bookie (Antony Carbone) is asking for even more money from him, so what could save his skin? How about those kids he saw skateboarding earlier in the day?
If Skateboard had been made in the United Kingdom, then it is likely the Children's Film Foundation would have rustled up an hour-long effort based around a gang of kids wishing to save their skate park from, I dunno, evil land developers or something. However, in America the same subject was more likely to include references to sex, violence and drugs in what was ostensibly a family film, and the kids were not even the focus of the plot. Such was the case with Skateboard, which all looks very curious now, yet still has a following today among those who saw it in their early years, and among those who like to trace the sport back to the seventies.
For some reason, the team of Dick Wolf (who went on to be a powerful television producer) and George Gage chose to concentrate on Manny as their main character, so what should by all rights have been a better film if it were wall to wall stunts and jumps is actually half a drama detailing the last chance at success for a slightly seedy and disreputable agent on one of the lowest rungs of the showbiz ladder, barely a step up from cleaning the elephant cage at the circus. But Manny is a desperate fellow, and is sticking with what he knows in spite of it not providing him with the funds he would like, which leads to the setting up of his skateboarding display team.
Making up this team, who are assembled when Manny approaches them in the street having told the bookie he has had a brainwave which will pay back the debt and make him money in the process, are a collection of actual skaters and a few professional young actors. Most famous among the actors would have been teen star Leif Garrett, who proudly announced that he did all his own stunts on this, although oddly his character is more of a supporting one when you would think that Wolf and Gage might have capitalised on their kid audience's interest by putting him front and centre. So if you're hoping for all the action of the decade, what you actually get for most of the time is Garfield emoting as if he's in a heavyweight melodrama.
Backing him up is Kathleen Lloyd, whose character Millicent appears when the parents of the team ask for a female nurse to accompany their offspring as they drive around the state putting on shows and entering competitions. The footage we see of that is the highlight, with ramps and barrel jumping and whatnot, all supplying the inspiration to the young folks of the day for what they would have liked to fill up their time doing as the skateboard craze really took hold. That's what this was, essentially, a cash-in movie, and taking as its template the sporting clichés that were by set in stone from countless other movies, but for those feeling nostalgic, for all they got wrong in the presentation, they got enough right to make it worthwhile both for the hardcore fans and the casual observers. More comedy would have helped, as grit was not really the correct way to go, yet its vintage montages of those plucky young skaters are very evocative of their era - and please, take heed of the warning at the end, kids. Music by Mark Snow.