February 14, 2011 12:33pm EST
Brad Anderson’s new film The Vanishing on 7th St. asks you to fear the haunting abyss that is the darkness but the more terrifying void is its story. Or lack thereof. Seeing as how it’s billed as a mystery horror-thriller and this from the director of neo-noir classics like The Machinist and Transsiberian I expected at least a few minor scares; I should’ve known they’d come only from Hayden Christensen’s performance.
The film is set in Detroit and follows a handful of survivors (including John Leguizamo Thandie Newton Jacob Latimore and Christensen) of an inexplicable power outage that seems to have consumed the entire city’s population. They must put the pieces of this puzzling event together to understand what’s happening and figure out how they can stay alive with looming shadows closing in on them.
With a less competent director at the helm this movie would’ve been a total disaster. The script is terrible focusing on one-dimensional characters their back-stories and a bunch of crackpot theories that hint at explanations but never follow through (in its defense the film is meant to be inconclusive but that doesn’t make up for bad dialogue plot holes etc.) Luckily Anderson is in his element with ambiguous narratives and creates a startling atmosphere that is interesting to examine. It has an unpolished gritty texture that brings to mind similar low-budget horror flicks but is enhanced by startling sound effects and an unnerving score from relative newcomer Lucas Vidal. Still all style and no substance only goes so far and The Vanishing on 7th St. never hits the throttle.
Essentially a creature feature without the creature the film is best looked at as an apocalyptic survival tale. The problem is that there’s nothing adventurous or enthralling about it. The characters’ encounters with the shadows are repetitive and the effect gets old quickly. Furthermore half of the cast (I’ll let you guess who) is incapable of conveying fear and if they aren’t afraid then how are you the audience supposed to be? I tried analyzing the film from an existential standpoint as a few of the characters question the reason for this human extermination but I couldn’t find any genuine moments of meditation.
Without question the star player here is Anderson who proves that he can do his job even when other members of the creative team don’t. The fact that he was able to develop such a striking tone from a sub-par screenplay is a testament of his ability as a storyteller.
It's 1978 and in the suburbs of Chicago every day begins and ends at the roller-skating rinks. For X (Bow Wow) and his friends the news that their home-base rink is going out of business is devastating. They were men amongst boys on the rink and now they're forced to try to fit in at another more classy skating joint--the Sweetwater Roller Rink. There they must face Sweetness Sweetwater's resident celebrity and roller-skating champion and his pirouetting entourage. Everyone except X is intimidated by this daunting obstacle. See although everyone has it rough in their neighborhood X's mom just died and his disapproving dad (Chi McBride) is out of work so the rink is his only outlet. And he's pretty darn good at skating. Eventually X and his crew stand up to Sweetness challenging him and his cast of flamboyant flunkies to a skate off. It's the moment X has been waiting for and what he might lack in skating ability he more than makes up for in heart.
Hollywood seems to have found a remedy for the conundrum of casting the parts of precocious teens: either hire Dakota Fanning or find older actors who can look the part. But in the case of Roll Bounce charismatic star Bow Wow is actually not too far off his character's young age. Now all grown up the actor has the ability to grasp his character's urban attitude as well as his internal strife involving some genuine dramatic scenes which a href="/celebrity/Shad_Gregory_Moss/1123746" >Bow Wow pulls off with surprising conviction. Chi McBride--something of a hot film commodity these days but best known for his stint on TV's Boston Public--interacts convincingly with Bow Wow as X's widower-father struggling to be everything to everyone while butting heads with X on a number of issues primarily his obsession with skating. Then there's X's posse played with joie de vivre by a few up and coming actors. They include Khleo Thomas (Holes) as the sweet-natured Mixed Mike; Marcus T. Paulk as the shy Boo; Brandon T. Jackson as the brazen Junior; and Jurnee Smollett (Eve's Bayou) as the only girl in the bunch. The camaraderie is certainly evident.
For what it's worth director Malcolm D. Lee is Spike Lee's cousin who has no doubt lent a helping hand to his cousin's own flourishing career. Whereas Spike makes movies that are usually topical Malcolm tends to make parodies of the inequalities his cousin tries to solve which would include Malcolm's most well-known film Undercover Brother. Accordingly Roll Bounce is able to get away with some crude juvenile humor because it wouldn't dare take itself too seriously. Of course the coming-of-age story is sticky sweet and poignant but really the best part is the roller skating sequences to the groovin' '70s disco soundtrack. Roll Bounce is all about the fun which is achieved rather seamlessly.