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Skater hater

A review of Grind



Grind (PG-13)
Warner Bros.

It is a truth universally acknowledged (by me) that when expectations are lowered in hopes that a piece of Hollywood tripe might just be "so bad it's good," it invariably winds up being "so bad it sucks."

Grind is a perfect example of such a film -- so odious it should rightly inspire multiple class-action lawsuits for the reinstatement of 100 minutes of its victims' lives. While billed as a "skateboard" movie, it includes about nine minutes of actual skateboarding. Its characters do not discuss skateboarding, or even practice. In fact, its cast of sugarcoated teen unknowns carry their boards with the same insouciance one might escort a piece of wayward human feces to the nearest trash receptacle.

A poor man's Ashton Kutcher, Mike Vogel stars as Eric Rivers, a skater bent on attaining company sponsorship and living the dream as a pro skater. Through his starry idealism, he convinces his homies (Adam Brody and Vince Vieluf) to forsake their couch potato lifestyles for a cross-country vision quest. Their holy grail is to hook up with pro skate God Jimmy Wilson, who will surely make them rich and famous.

Rivers' crew drafts Sweet Lou (Joey Kern), an oleaginous man-whore whose mere "how's it going?" turns women into make-out Silly Putty. In his "don't come a knockin'" van, the gang of four travels the country on a hackneyed tour de farce of lame epiphanies. It's a plot you've seen before; the only difference is that it's framed under the banner of skateboarding. But for all the attention Grind pays to the sport, it might just as well be set within the world of competitive needlepoint (the stichin' would be bitchin'!).

And then there's the scatology. While I'm all for well-crafted potty humor -- I'll sign petitions, march on Washington, you name it -- it must be deployed with sparing precision. Unlike the deftly crafted flatulence of South Park or the death-defying gross-outs of Jackass, Grind's bathroom jokes are sub-sitcom. The best screenwriter Ralph Sall can come up with is having Vieluf demand that a tank-topped babe "set the twins free." Twins, you see, are breasts. Get it?

And don't get me started on the sexism. While men who make a habit of mounting feminist soapboxes are as annoying as they are suspicious, this simply cannot stand. Despite the paucity of female characters, Grind posits the implausible notion that a continuous backdrop of babes would swoon, not over casting agents or rock stars, but skateboarders! The film doesn't even include a woman who, on her worst day, couldn't find work as a JC Penney's bra model. While skater babe Jamie (Jennifer Morrison) serves as Rivers' love interest, teaching him that, by gum, chicks can skate too, it's too little too late -- a laughable apologia for an objectification of anorexic womanhood that makes Maxim magazine look like a Gloria Steinem publication.

But perhaps it only follows, as Grind is only too happy to objectify its subject matter. Not even the slightest attempt is made at exploring an athletic subculture that has hovered on the fringes of mainstream respectability for the last decade. Unlike most sports films, there's not even the tacit recognition that athletic glory is the fruit of hard work. If this is skateboarding, where are the tweaked ankles, purple hips and swellbows?

(For skaters who won't find this review reason enough to save $7, your only fun will be witnessing how many tricks are butchered through editing. Unless, of course, Bucky Lasek is now pulling through-the-legs, 720 kickflips ...)

Grind is male fantasy that lacks the courage to admit what it is: a never-never land where every trick is nailed on the first try, where every female is a nymphet goddess, where even the most minor risks are rewarded tenfold.

Perhaps it's naive to hope that Grind would be better than its marketing suggests. At risk of waxing too portentous, hope is what keeps us buying movie tickets -- that we might see something we recognize as true, or find truth that forces us to grapple with that which we'd prefer to ignore. Grind obliterates such aspirations, leaving us with the fleeting hope that for posterity's sake, its negative might be ground into oblivion.

-- John Dicker

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