This week, I rallied friends and asked Instagram which terrible skate movies I should watch.
There seemed to be two golden eras of bad-skate-filmmaking: the mid-to-late-80s, and, everyone’s favourite time, the mid-00s. Skateboarding has dipped in and out of mainstream popularity over the decades, and these movie eras unsurprisingly align with skateboarding’s commercial success. Ignore the realism of any of these movies. I didn’t watch them because they get skateboarding right—I watched them because they really, really don’t.
I often go out of my way to see bad films. Sometimes I want to watch something that I can walk away from for ten minutes and still know exactly what’s going on when I come back. Part of this love stems from growing up watching Mystery Science Theater 3000. Bad movies are beautiful. They’re earnest. And they’re often as endearing as they are entertaining. I cannot say as much for Street Dreams.
I hated Street Dreams. Here are some highlights from my notes: ‘This is the cinematic version of namedropping,’ or ‘Aimlessly wandering with vague concepts of a plot,’ or ‘JOYLESS.’ Skateboarding movies work best when they aren’t actually about skateboarding. Street Dreams, on the other hand, aims to solely be about skateboarding: detailing the ‘glory’ of winning an amateur skate contest (Tampa Am, you guys. TAMPA. AM.) which will magically solve all of your problems, including making your dad proud of you despite his verbal and physical abuse, and landing you Ryan Scheckler’s onscreen sister. Actually, ‘win the contest, get sponsored, solve all your problems,’ is the most common plot of all of the films I watched. Other than The Skateboard Kid—a movie which has as much to do with actual skateboarding as a potato—and Gleaming the Cube, every single movie I watched had some variation of ‘win the contest, get sponsored, solve all your problems’ as its climax/resolution. To its credit, the one thing that Street Dreams has going for it is that Paul Rodriguez’s character doesn’t actually win Tampa Am. But he still lands the NAC (‘not-a-chance’ trick), gets sponsored, and gets the girl, so…
Hardflip, on the other hand, has a special place in my heart. I’m biased. It’s terrible and I love it. It clearly knows nothing about skateboarding but acts like it does, and has absurd, Jesus-y undertones that get more pronounced as the film progresses. At its core, it’s a propaganda piece. I’m convinced its low-budget was entirely produced by Vans and Christian Hosoi. Read this synopsis from IMDb: ‘Caleb is a young skater [authors note: the actor who plays him was 31 at the time of filming and it shows] whose ill mother and absent father leave him reaching for the only hope he has—becoming a sponsored skater.’ Win the contest (find Jesus). Get sponsored. Solve all your problems. It’s a movie that presents skateboarding to non-skaters and gets it almost all entirely wrong.
Grind is a teen comedy (a personal favourite genre of mine) that is 80% mall grabs and 20% sexual harassment and pro-skater-stalking. It also proves my theory that Ryan Sheckler has to be in every skate movie from 2000-on or it doesn’t qualify as a movie about skateboarding (in the 80s, replace Sheckler with Tony Hawk). It follows the already-outlined formulaic plot. Say it with me! Win the contest, get sponsored, solve all your problems. And you know what? It kind of works. It knows it’s ridiculous and isn’t trying to be anything other than a dumb, teen comedy. It’s probably the most digestible of the films I watched, other than the glorious cheese-fest that is Thrashin’.
Speaking of Thrashin’, apparently the 80s were all skate jousts and downhill races that were seen as badass and not kooky, and, because I wasn’t alive in the 80s, I will not question the realism of this film but simply accept it as fact. Also, when you win the contest, your enemies will accept you as a peer rather than an adversary. In the name of the father, the son, and the holy Josh Brolin. Amen.
Many of these films introduce the concept of the skateboarder fleeing his dysfunctional family and finding solace on his board. See: there’s that earnestness I was talking about. While not every real-world skater has this backstory, there is a sliver of truth in this portrayal. Skateboarding is often an escape. Maybe not from dead and/or absent family members (and there are a lot of dead or absent family members in these movies), but from stress and the reality of an uncertain future. Hollywood loves to throw money at whatever it is the ‘kids these days’ are into, and it’s usually done wrong. But through the haze of bullshit, certain truths appear.
Skateboarding has an incredibly complex culture; one that shuns outsiders and loves to hate any misstep. It’s the reason Mid-90s was the subject of so much scorn online in the skate community before it was even released. But commercially, skateboarding is still a viable option for Hollywood, particularly now that it is heading towards the Olympics in 2020. I know I’m eagerly awaiting the next iteration of the bad Hollywood skate movie: win Olympic gold. Get sponsored. Solve all your problems.