FILM REVIEW: WASSUP ROCKERS
By Jessica Reaves
Chicago Tribune Staff Writer
Larry Clark is clearly a man with issues. Issues that have less to do with filmmaking and more to do with shooting video that is probably pretty close to child pornography. If you've seen "Kids," his deeply unpleasant and much ballyhooed snapshot of underage sexual habits, you already know this. Take this understanding with you if you choose to see Clark's latest (and sixth) feature film, and you'll likely be able to sit through the movie's many uncomfortably intimate scenes with something approaching composure.
Having said that, "Wassup Rockers" is very different than "Kids." Where the earlier film was exhausting in its nihilism, the latest retains a good-natured charm.
"Wassup Rockers" is the story of seven Latino boys growing up in South Central Los Angeles. Set apart from their peers by their adoption of 1980s rock style, including skintight pants, long hair and stocking caps, the boys are ridiculed and threatened in their own neighborhood. But it's only when they skateboard their way across L.A., in search of the perfect skate park, that they discover how powerfully their differences define them. They're "Mexicans" to every white person they meet, never mind their actual heritage may be. They are instantly objects of suspicion, ridicule and violence, never more so than when they make their way into Beverly Hills, where safety is an illusion draped in dreadful pink stucco.
Clark met the kids during a photo shoot, and after including them in the photographs and learning more about their stories, decided to make this movie. The smallest but most charismatic member of the group is named Jonathan, and he's a mini-Lothario, hopping from bed to bed as the boys' daylong trek across Los Angeles unfolds. The other guys have a few conquests of their own as well. This is where the creepy factor comes in - Clark shoots the adolescent love scenes with a very tight lens, inching along the boys' hairless chests with what feels a lot like lasciviousness.
Clark's methodology is pseudo-documentary, meaning he gives his "actors" a storyline, letting them know generally what to do, but there's rarely a script involved. The kids are uniformly great in this movie; their supporting cast, not so much. But while stilted performances from the adults - most notably a blessedly brief cameo by a nearly incomprehensible Janice Dickinson - in the movie are distracting, the boys do a nice job playing off one another, riffing on their usual topics: girls, what they'd like to do to girls, and what they've been doing to girls since the sixth grade. Sex, for these kids, is one of the only activities in their lives that makes them feel in control, or provides a modicum of pleasure.
Skateboarding also fills that need. Long the refuge of misunderstood middle-class white kids, the sport of outsiders takes on new symbolic weight here - providing transportation and freedom to boys who are stuck, both literally and figuratively, in a life that feels at once unformed and totally predetermined.
Directed and written by Larry Clark; photographed by Steve Gainer; edited by Alex Blatt; music by Steve Mccroskey; produced by Clark, Kevin Turen and Henry Winterstern. A First Look Studios release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:45. MPAA rating: R (pervasive language, some violence, sexual content and teen drinking).
Jonathan - Jonathan Velasquez
Kico - Francisco Pedrasa
Milton - Milton Velasquez
Porky - Usvaldo Panameno