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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Airborne' Skates Past Plot Points

September 20, 1993|CHRIS WILLMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As the first major filmic celebration of in-line skating and holy Rollerbladers, "Airborne" (citywide) is hell on wheels and itchy limbo off. The occasional action scenes are as appropriately tortuous as the tired teen-out-of-water plot is torturous. This is a kid-flick that's speed-skating on one leg.

In the last 10 minutes or so, the picture actually lives up to its name and achieves a kind of movie liftoff. This climax is an exhilaratingly filmed race down the winding streets of a long Cincinnati hill between two teams of serious street skaters--around deadly curves, over parked cars, under skidding trucks, down sets of stairways (!), smack into trees and lakes. Kids will cheer this expert mayhem, while brittler-boned viewers may react to the danger by unconsciously massaging their intact joints.

If it weren't for the obvious illegality of this final life- and limb-endangering competition, the otherwise benign "Airborne" would probably bear a G rating instead of a PG. (It's surprising that Warner Bros. didn't put it out under the company's new Family Films imprint.) Off the blades, it's at best mediocre Nickelodeon fare. You keep itching for director Rob Bowman to wind up the puppy-love drama and bring on the action climax, in much the way that at home you might keep the TV burning waiting for Nick at Night to kick in.

Shane McDermott (of the TV soap "Swan's Crossing") plays Mitchell Goosen, a SoCal high-schooler heavy into boards and blades whose traveling parents send him to stay with relatives in Cincinnati for six months. Our severely bummed transplant has trouble making friends in Ohio--as he well ought, uttering movie surfspeak like "Como esta, ladies" and "Chill, man, let it go."

Soon, in the tradition of all filmic pretty boys from James Dean on, he's inexplicably become the target of every jock in his new school while acting as a chick magnet for all their girlfriends. If you had to choose your poison, this might be it.

Even in his unpopularity, Mitchell tends toward an irritating cockiness, so you keep waiting for him to get some kind of transforming comeuppance before he finally gives the bullies theirs. But character development is beyond this script's scope. The jocks just happen to be hockey nuts, so all the hero has to do is wait for the chance to butt in on a Roller- blading practice session to prove his prowess and his worthiness of the chief bad guy's sister.

Most of the kids do have charisma, especially Seth Green, providing effective comic relief as McDermott's nerdy/hip cousin Wiley, and Brittney Powell, who has far less to do as the damsel. The main adversary is Chris Conrad, looking like a big, beefy, malevolent Michael J. Fox. Adult actors like the doting Edie McClurg are on view only briefly--and embarrassingly--as caricatures of the horribly uncool fate that will befall you if you ever grow up.

The technical credits are perhaps better than Bill Apablasa's slightish screenplay deserves. Cinematographer Daryn Okada has given the proceedings a surprising natural-light look, and Stewart Copeland contributes a well-above-average rock score redolent of "Rumble Fish" and better times.

But the biggest kudos might well be given to second-unit director Steve Boyum, stunt coordinator Pat Parnell and the remarkable skaters of Team Rollerblade, who prove against expectations that in-line skating is inherently cinematic and whose work on the finale keeps "Airborne" from being a total Earth-hugger.

'Airborne'

Shane McDermott: Mitchell

Seth Green: Wiley

Brittney Powell: Nikki

Chris Conrad: Jack

Edie McClurg: Aunt Irene

Patrick O'Brien: Uncle Louie

A Warner Bros. presentation of an Icon production. Director Rob Bowman. Producers Bruce Davey, Stephen McEveety. Screenplay by Bill Apablasa. Cinematographer Daryn Okada. Editor Harry B. Miller. Music Stewart Copeland. Production design John Myhre. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes.

MPAA-rated PG.

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