DIRECTED BY: Rick King
FEATURING: Corey Haim, Patricia Arquette, Christopher Collet, J. C. Quinn, Julius Harris, Devin Clark
PLOT: In a dystopian near-future where greed and widespread drug addiction have reduced the United States to third-world status, a cult of white-supremacist rollerbladers seeks to consolidate power; a lone skater, Griffin, infiltrates the gang to scuttle their operations and save his little brother.
COMMENTS: The brave new world of Prayer of the Rollerboys would seem to be a breeding ground for satire. The schools of the Ivy League have been carted off to Japan brick-by-brick. Mexican troops are repelling American immigrants at the border. Germany has conquered Poland once more, this time with its checkbook. Oh, and there’s rollerblading. Lots of rollerblading. But don’t laugh: screenwriter W. Peter Iliff (from whose pen Point Break and Varsity Blues will soon spring) wants you to be alarmed about even the most outlandish projections for America’s doomed future. There’s darkness coming, and only one thing can save us: Corey Haim.
Poor Corey. The prospective viewer of today might see the presence of the more tragic half of the Coreys in rollerblades as a guarantee of solid so-bad-it’s good entertainment. But it doesn’t turn out that way. It’s no secret masterpiece, but Prayer of the Rollerboys turns out to be a passable action flick, bringing low-budget grittiness and late-80s ethos to a familiar tale, with just a hint of eye-rolling over the near-future mise-en-scene.
After establishing his rollerblading bonafides in the opening credits, we properly meet Haim wearing a barbershop quartet’s striped jacket and boater and slinging an AK-47 for his job as a pizza delivery boy. (His boss: “If anybody messes with the van, [singing] kill ‘em.”) He’s trying to stay out of trouble and take care of his younger brother Miltie. Griffin’s just a good man in a bad world, you see; this world’s version of Marshal Will Kane.
There’s a lot out there to make him wary, like the vast amount of homelessness, the preponderance of populace-pleasing entertainments like nude women wrestling, and of course the narcotic du jour, an phosphorescent inhalant called “Mist.” But the biggest threat comes from the Rollerboys, an organized gang of skating thugs who deal Mist on the downlow while publicly sponsoring food drives and handing out their fascist literature to indoctrinate the masses. They occupy the Venn diagram intersection between Nazi Youth, the Proud Boys, New Kids on the Block, and the cast of Starlight Express. The film luxuriates in the sight of them cruising down the sidewalks of Venice Beach on their inlines, and the image of a dozen pretty rollerbladers decked out in flowing ecru trenchcoats and skating in a uniform flying-V is… well, not cool, exactly, but certainly memorable.
The film works best when it fully commits to the outlandishness of its premise. Griffin’s old grade school buddy Gary has grown up to lead the Rollerboys, and Christopher Collet gives it his all as a low-rent, roller-skating James Spader, a grinning crocodile who is fairly fit to burst into violence. (He even has a pet Komodo dragon to stroke malevolently.) No subtlety here; Gary’s plan to sterilize the population is literally called “the final solution.” His henchmen also bring the barely contained insanity, including Mark Pellegrino as a Jake Busey-wannabe strongman and the perpetually simmering Morgan Weisser, who even bites into an apple with repressed rage.
Against this, Haim does a creditable job, keeping an even keel as a guy who just wants to rollerblade in peace and now finds himself embroiled in chaos. He and Collet have genuine chemistry, engage in a rather effective fight scene, and bring authentic gravity to their final showdown. No, in our topsy-turvy world, the worst performance probably belongs to future Oscar-winner Patricia Arquette, zipping through the film in an admittedly weak role as an undercover cop in a series of joyfully ridiculous outfits (special consideration for her Dale Evans getup) and very little indication of the terrific acting career that lay ahead.
Once you get past the nightmare future of rampaging young white supremacists (all too believable) and full combat on skates (somewhat less so), there isn’t really anything wrong with Prayer of the Rollerboys. It’s derivative and a little silly, but the biggest problem is that the film is punching well above its weight. There are some intriguing ideas lurking in the movie: the allure of fascism, the impotence of our protectors, the weaponization of youth… but it’s all still riding on the shoulders of a Corey Haim rollerblading movie. It has to rehabilitate a teen heartthrob, create a credible future, call out the foibles of society, and do it all while embodying a youth culture that always seems to be just a step out of Hollywood’s reach. It would be a stretch for any movie to pull this all off. This is not the movie to do it.
Prayer of the Rollerboys isn’t bad enough to satisfy the snark-watchers, but not good enough to step out of the bin of forgotten B-movies. It does hint at an alternate universe where Corey Haim was able to realize his potential as an actor, and where we as a society anticipated the dangers of ceding power to pretty people who would co-opt it for nefarious purposes. Alas, in both cases, that stretches credulity just a shred too far.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“The impact of screenwriter W Peter Iliff’s distinctly weird and intriguing premise is gradually eroded by the eventually unsurprising developments in its interestingly outlandish storyline and also by the over-familiarity of the usual, regulation futuristic setting of a chaotic, dystopian tomorrow’s world.” – Derek Winnert, derekwinnert.com
(This movie was nominated for review by Lovecraft in Brooklyn, who says the film “features characters that somehow predict the modern alt-right.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)