Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Project DCOM #4: BRINK!

I thought I had fond, if vague, memories of Brink!, the Disney Channel movie first aired in August 1998. Not too many minutes into the movie, though, I realized I'd never actually seen it. I think I was just remembering the ads, which played nonstop on the channel around that time, especially the moment when the protagonist throws a milkshake in the face of a sneering mean kid. That's some good old fashioned kid movie comeuppance served up in a way so simple and satisfying that it registers even in a 30 second excerpt in a promo meant to get you to watch the whole movie. That it never got me to do so is beside the point.

The kid who does the throwing of the shake is the lead. He's Brink, a guy who loves to strap on some rollerblades and pull off some sweet tricks down at the skate park with a tight group of friends. He's played by Erik von Detten, a teenage boy with long blonde hair and Teen Beat nonthreatening good looks that clearly mark him as the main character. They call themselves the "Soul Skaters," so named because they skate for nothing more than the love of skating. The group dynamic spins around Brink, for no other reason beyond the fact that he's the lead. The Soul Skaters are composed of two slightly sillier guys (Patrick Levis and Asher Gold) and a girl (Christina Vidal) who is an honorary one-of-the-guys, in typical 3 to 1 kid movie fashion. They enjoy skating around, receiving nothing but fun and camaraderie in return.

This is most unlike their rivals, the X-Blades, who are somehow sponsored by vague corporate interests, earning a couple hundred bucks a week to do the same tricks, spins, and jumps the Soul Skaters are doing for free. They also all attend the same school, where the resentment between the two groups manifests itself in pranks (the lead X-Blade, played by Sam Horrigan, gets the aforementioned drink to the face) and one race through the halls of the chill outdoor layout of their Californian public school. The tension between the groups is kicked to a slightly higher level when Brink overhears his parents discussing their family's money problems and decides that X-Blade money could sure come in handy. He suffers from torn allegiances, invited to join the other group, but wanting to keep his sellout status from his best friends.

This obvious but nice conflict doesn't even show itself until over a third of the way through Brink! It's a pokey film, not nearly as insistent as you'd think. Most of the runtime is given over to solid clich├ęs spread awfully thin, playing upon the viewers' patience for blandly photographed skating sequences. By the late 90s, rollerblading, along with BMX biking and skateboarding and similar activities, had moved from fad to codified sport. The X-Games were founded only 3 years earlier. The movie Airborne, which rides over similar terrain, was released two years before that. So much of Brink! is about nothing more than the act of rollerblading itself. Maybe at the time it was enough to show off something "the kids" would like, but the movie plays out with slang-filled dialogue that sounds exactly like an adult wrote how he thought kids talked.

Director Greg Beeman, who previously handled the DCOM Under Wraps, but is otherwise best known for his largely forgotten 1988 Corey Haim/Corey Feldman comedy License to Drive, treats the whole thing with almost admirable nonplussed filmmaking. With a rewrite or two, I could almost imagine a version of the movie that would play out much like an actual young teen's life might. In Jeff Schechter’s script there's some degree of seriousness to Brink's relationship with his parents, who encourage him to get a job, but aren't so sure about the whole rollerblading thing. The conflict between the kids plays out in a way that's on the whole less cartoonish than you'd think. And the stunt work is convincing in an unexaggerated way. But between the sluggish pace (too little plot, character, or visual interest to sustain even 90 minutes) and a maudlin score distractingly slopped over every scene, there's not quite enough here.

Up next: Halloweentown

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