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'Grind' skates on plot, not action

August 15, 2003|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

The characters in the new skater comedy "Grind" inhabit the precipice of adulthood that has served films from "American Graffiti" to "American Pie," but this ode to thrashin' is aimed squarely at a younger crowd -- grommets, if you will -- the little kids who worship at the feet of the sport's superstars.

Precisely targeting its demographic, the film takes on some of the characteristics of male pubescence: the wickedly short attention span, an inability or unwillingness to focus on any one topic for longer than it takes to switch channels with the remote control, the Oedipal obsession with women's breasts and a fondness for scatological humor.

What there is of a story follows a trio of friends freshly graduated from high school who place a temporary hold on the future responsibilities of college and jobs for the fleeting chance to spend the summer chasing their collective dream of becoming professional skateboarders.

The movie's title comes from skater jargon for scraping one or both axles on a curb, railing or other surface, but also refers to the dull routines the friends will endure when they march off to college.

The leader of the trio is Eric (Mike Vogel), who dreams the biggest and is also the best skater. When the Tony Hawk-like superstar Jimmy Wilson (Jason London) brings his tour to town, Eric tries every avenue to get a videotape into Wilson's hands in the hope of securing sponsorship for the group.

Unable to get his "sponsor me" video to Jimmy, Eric rallies his buds to hit the road in the demo tour's wake and skate their way to glory. Matt (Vince Vieluf), a walking, talking obscene gesture, flings himself at the challenge like an overstimulated puppy.

Dustin (Adam Brody), the group's straight-arrow conscience, reluctantly agrees to finance the adventure with cash he saved for college.

In need of wheels bigger than those on their boards, the three skaters enlist Sweet Lou (Joey Kern) -- the stock character who's still chasing high school chicks even though he graduated, like, six years ago but who, more importantly, is the owner of a van.

Once on the road, the movie takes the form of a tame sex comedy, with brief interruptions that are more Tony Robbins than Tony Hawk and feature self-help mantras for the X-Games generation ("Keep skating. Stay true to yourself, and stay in the game -- if you're good, you'll get noticed.").

Directed by Casey La Scala from a loose-meat sandwich of a script by Ralph Sall, "Grind" manages to capture enough honest moments to make it watchable, but it's never really funny enough to recommend to anyone who's outgrown short pants and kneepads. Veteran actors such as Christopher McDonald, Dave Foley, Randy Quaid, Bobcat Goldthwait and Tom Green waft through in cameos without overexerting themselves.

Toward the end, the movie morphs into a sentimental underdog story: "Rocky" for the vertically inclined, and the best parts of the whole experience are the top-notch skating sequences shot by second-unit director Matt Goodman, a partner with Tony Hawk in 900 Films -- the extreme sports equivalent of NFL Films. Professional skaters double for the four leads and most of the time it's all very believable, demonstrating the grace and athleticism of a sport that only recently has gotten its due.



MPAA rating: PG-13 for crude humor, sexual content and language

Times guidelines: Plenty of scatological humor and a fascination with cleavage

Mike Vogel...Eric

Vince Vieluf...Matt

Adam Brody...Dustin

Joey Kern...Sweet Lou

Jennifer Morrison...Jamie

Pandora presents a Gaylord Films/Gerber Pictures production, released by Warner Bros. Director Casey La Scala. Producers Bill Gerber, Hunt Lowry, Casey La Scala. Executive producers E.K. Gaylord II, Morgan Stone. Screenplay Ralph Sall. Cinematographer Richard Crudo. Editor Eric Strand. Costume design Tangi Crawford. Production designer Perry Andelin Blake. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.

In general release.

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