When I was about six years old I asked my parents to buy me a skateboard. I knew a bunch of older kids in my neighborhood had them and I thought they looked pretty cool. I still can’t quite believe that they actually got me one. Though I tried, I was never quite able to master the thing. I did a lot more falling than riding…and this was the mid 70’s so things like elbow pads, knee pads, and helmets were not a high priority. Though I was pretty pathetic on my board, this was a time when skateboarding was becoming a big deal across the country. Our film today, was an attempt to capitalize on the new craze…it’s 1978’s Skateboard.
The film focuses on Manny Bloom (Allen Garfield); an LA agent whose business isn’t exactly booming. Unfortunately, he owes his bookie a hefty sum and has no way of paying him back. Desperate for a way to make some dough, Manny is inspired by the teenagers he sees riding their skateboards around his neighborhood. He decides to recruit them to join a skateboarding team that will tour around Southern California doing exhibitions of their skill. There are both boys and girls of varying ages on the team, including a scrappy kid named Brad (Leif Garrett) and the star of the team Jason (Richard Van der Wyk). They dub the team the Los Angeles Wheels.
Things start off a little rough for the team, but soon they become somewhat popular. Of course, there are problems for Manny trying to manage a bunch of teenagers…like keeping the teenage guys out of the girls’ hotel rooms. So he ends up having to recruit a female chaperone/nurse named Millicent (Kathleen Lloyd) to travel with the team. Soon things start to take off for the team as they start to win various competitions. However, just as the biggest competition in the state is about to happen, Jason decides to leave the team. Now, Manny has to have Brad step in to win the big downhill race so the team can win the money Manny needs to pay off his bookie.
Clearly, the makers of Skateboard were going for The Bad News Bears but with skateboarding instead of baseball. Unfortunately, somehow they missed one of the crucial elements of BNB…a team full of colorful characters. The members of the LA Wheels all seem to blur to together. None of them really get a chance to distinguish themselves from the rest of the group. It doesn’t help matters that they all look almost identical to each other with their mop top blonde hair. They might as well be Oompa Loompas because other than the height differences the kids all look alike. Only Leif Garrett stood out to me, and that’s only because I knew him from other things.
On the plus side, the skateboarding sequences are fun. There are some creative camera angles employed in these sequence, though it’s all still very low-budget. There’s nothing grandly cinematic in the way these scenes are presented, but the kids do show off some slick skills. We do reach a point, however, where we start to see the same tricks over and over again, just in a different setting. Still, the stunts are impressive.
As for our lead, Allen Garfield, he’s a far cry from Walter Matthau’s Buttermaker, but he makes a decent coach for this ragtag bunch. I question his priorities a bit, though. I mean, he owes his bookie a sum of money that he could’ve paid off much sooner had he not been buying them new uniforms and getting a custom paint job on their bus. Kathleen Lloyd is also good as the team’s second in command. They could’ve done a bit more with the character, though. Maybe give her a few heart to heart moments with some of the young ladies on the team. As is, though, she brings a sweetness to the film
Probably the biggest appeal of Skateboard today is simply the nostalgia factor. It is fun to see this aspect of 70’s pop culture again, though the story leaves a lot to be desired. As a Bad News Bears rip off it misses what makes that movie great, but the skateboarding action does manage to make the film at least somewhat entertaining.