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Reviews by Dr. Frank Swietek   

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SKATELAND 
C 
Producer  Anthony Burns, Brandon Freeman and Heath Freeman 
Director  Anthony Burns 
Writer  Anthony Burns, Brendan Freeman and Heath Freeman 
Starring Shiloh Fernandez  Ashley Greene  Heath Freeman  Taylor Handley  A.J. Buckley 
Haley Ramm  Brett Cullen  Melinda McGraw  James Hebert 
Studio  Freestyle Releasing 
Review  John Hughes meets “The Last Picture Show” in this Texas-based period coming-of-age story about a recent high school graduate who prefers his job at the local roller-skating emporium to thinking about moving on with his life. “Skateland” has some attractive features, most notably the lead performance of Shiloh Fernandez (think of “Dead Girl” rather than “Red Riding Hood”). But ultimately it coasts along according to such predictable beats that it seems prefabricated.

Fernandez plays Ritchie Wheeler, a nice kid who genuinely savors his job at the skating rink and spends his off hours partying with his girlfriend Michelle Buckham (Ashley Greene), her high-spirited older brother Brent (Heath Freeman), who’s just returned from a stint on the motorcycle circuit, and a few other friends. But the aimlessness of his attitude disturbs his sweet younger sister Mary (Haley Ramm), who wants him to go off to college so badly she even sends in an application for him. And to make his situation even more difficult, his parents are splitting up, with his mother (Melinda McGraw) moving on to partners more ingratiating than the workaholic father (Brett Cullen) he and sis stay on with.

There’s a further wrinkle in the presence of a trio of town bullies whose leader (James Hebert) targets Brent because they both have eyes for the same blonde (Casey LaBow). You just know that’s not going to turn out well, and Ritchie will be shaken up by it.

And did I mention that in the midst of all the summer’s melodramatics the owner of the rink (A.J. Buckley)—a laid-back rocker type, it appears—sells his place, saying that the place’s time has passed? It’s the end of an era, you see.

“Skateland” is buoyed by Fernandez’s nicely shaded turn, and by the avalanche of eighties songs on the soundtrack, which will set anyone of a certain age’s toes to tapping. The physical production is impressive for a picture with a limited budget, too, with the period trappings well caught without over-exaggeration. But Freeman comes across too strong—hearty is one thing, but this is another—and the remainder of the cast mostly just gets by. After a look-at-me-ma opening tracking shot—“Touch of Evil” does have a lot to answer for in that regard—Anthony Burns’s direction is pedestrian even in car chases. And the final act of the script he penned with Freeman and his brother Brandon is entirely too pat, with every plot strand tied up into a neat little knot that emphasizes that almost everything will turn out alright.

You’ve got to give the makers of “Skateland” credit for honesty—they salute Hughes by name in the closing credits. But as the homage to the late writer-director in the recent “Take Me Home Tonight” proved, a longing to emulate his eighties classics isn’t enough. You’ve got to be able to add something new to the formula, and this movie doesn’t.  

 

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