We haven’t had a good skateboarding movie in–well, ever. (I exclude documentaries from this blanket statement: “Dogtown and Z-Boys” had its moments.) The streak is left defiantly unbroken with “Grind,” an astoundingly awful follow-your-dream fantasy about four dudes who go through absolute heck in their determination to break into the world of professional skating–and, spoiler intended, eventually succeed. It’s the sort of dumb wish-fulfillment tale that’s older than time and feels ever mustier than that. What makes it particularly excruciating in this case is that the characters are so loathsome and the vulgarity so unremitting. This is a really abominable movie, so bad it might make you look back fondly on “Gleaming the Cube” and “Airborne.”
The plot–to use the word loosely–involves three high-school seniors–supposedly from Chicago although the makers can’t even manage a single establishing shot of the Windy City–who go off on a post-graduation quest to catch the eye of legendary pro skateboarder Jimmy Wilson (Jason London) as he tours the country in his hopped-up bus. The Illinois chums are Eric Rivers (Mike Vogel), the bland blond leader; Dustin (Adam Brody), the nerdy best friend who reluctantly bankrolls the venture with his college fund (which we learn late in the picture amounts to a bit over $700, a sum that would barely cover book prices at a community college); and the obligatory wild-man slob, Matt (Vince Vieluf). To fill out the quartet apparently needed for a team on the circuit (and secure a van for their travels), the guys recruit a slightly older pal, Sweet Lou (Joey Kern), a local Lothario on the run from the father of his latest jailbait conquest.
At this point one of the fellows poses a pertinent question to another: “Do you think we really have a chance?” The answer, as it turns out, is definitely no–at least in the cinematic sense. What follows is a chaotic series of unbelievably crude, grossly humorless episodes in which the fellows repeatedly fail to attract Jimmy’s attention and suffer an avalanche of well-deserved humiliations. We’re supposed to find the guys funny and strangely likable through it all, but it’s impossible to sympathize even remotely with these charmless, oafish boobs. Eric is simply dull, Dustin a harmless doofus, and Lou a smarmily smooth operator, but Matt is such a consistently repugnant dolt that he’s worse than annoying–he’s absolutely disgusting. It’s not without reason that Eric’s father (Christopher MacDonald in a cameo) refers to him as a moron; Matt is. And late in the picture, when one of our heroes remarks, “There’s no way in hell this can get any worse,” the movie proves him wrong–it does, finishing up with a ludicrous duel on skates between Eric and a gangsta-wannabe rival. (Actually that sequence begins with one of the flick’s few laugh-engendering moments, when a dove flies–John Woo style–above the set. One momentarily hopes that director Casey La Scala, whose touch appears non-existent elsewhere, intended this moment as a joke, but in a movie this dreadful one immediately dismisses the idea. It must just be a pigeon accidentally passing by; a pity it didn’t take the opportunity to befoul the camera lens.)
The young actors who play these guys bring absolutely no juice to the party. Vogel’s a nonentity and Brody much too mannered, while Kern’s attempt to play Lou as if he were the younger brother of Matthew McConaughy’s Wooderson from “Dazed and Confused” soon grows tiresome. But it’s Vieluf who takes things from the merely terrible to the intolerable. The kid might be a pleasant enough fellow in real life, but here he’s encouraged to act the perpetually obnoxious boor, and succeeds so completely that you only hope that when he has one of his periodic skating accidents it will prove sufficiently serious that the others will have to leave him behind. (And his constant roughhousing, hugging and kissing of his fellows raises a peculiar homoerotic subtext–by the close he seems, despite all his leering over chicks, about as straight as Frasier and Niles Crane.) To up the gut-wrenching ante of the flick, some cameos are employed. Stephen Root earns an embarrassed chuckle as Eric and Dustin’s boss as a chili place in the early going, but one reaches the nadir later on, when Tom Green shows up for an appalling turn as a wacked-out DJ–an obviously improvised bit that’s dragged out to miserable lengt–and Randy Quaid does an ill-advised bit as Matt’s father, who turns out to be as aspiring clown (with the same lack of success as the rest of the cast).
After all this it should come as no surprise that the movie is technically junky too; why would any crew waste its time and effort on a script that spends so much time on episodes revolving around flatulence and dumped-over porta-potties? When it’s all over, the viewer will certainly agree with a statement Eric makes to Jamie (Jennifer Morrison), a girl who becomes inexplicably interested in him, late in the movie: “We screwed everything up, and it’s a total disaster.” For sure, you’ll mutter, as you grind your teeth in sympathy with the movie’s title, longing for the wretched thing to end. A final warning: skip the out-takes during the final credits. They’re even worse than what’s preceded.