Two sure signs that mid-August has arrived: Back-to-school sales in department stores, movies like “Grind” in megaplexes. A textbook example of the charm-free ephemera dumped by studios during the waning days of summer, this slapdash trifle about itinerant teen skateboarders may wring small change from would-be extreme-sporters. After opening weekend, however, Warners release doubtless will fast-forward to homevid playgrounds.
Working from episodic script by Ralph Sall, who doubles as pic’s executive music producer, first-time helmer Casey La Scala focuses on cross-country high-jinks of four Chicago buddies who yearn to be “discovered” as professional skateboarders.
Earnest high school grad Eric Rivers (Mike Vogel of Fox TV’s “Grounded for Life”) firmly believes he’ll be a cinch for superstardom if he can earn a place on the skate team of legendary pro Jimmy Wilson (Jason London). When he fails to talk to his way past Wilson’s gatekeepers during the pro’s appearance in Chi-Town, Eric switches to Plan B: He decides to follow Jimmy’s tour bus along the skateboard tournament circuit — not unlike a stalker, Eric admits — in the hope of catching his idol’s eye with his own smooth moves and gnarly stunts.
Among the good friends and fellow skaters who accompany Eric on his quest are: Dustin (Adam Brody), an uptight workaholic who’s browbeaten into bankrolling the trip with his college fund; Matt (Vince Vieluf), a raucous slacker whose aggressive horseplay comes off as barely disguised hostility; and Sweet Lou (Joey Kern), a laid-back ladies’ man whose inexplicably effective come-on line (“Wanna make out?”) indicates the degree to which “Grind” is attuned to the daydreams of hormonally-inflamed male adolescents.
Pic follows four leads from town to town at a leisurely pace, allowing plenty of opportunities for cameo appearances by semi-celebrities (Bobcat Goldthwait, Tom Green, various members of the “Jackass” ensemble) who make semi-fools of themselves. Randy Quaid figures briefly but prominently in pic’s only clever subplot, a genuinely funny twist that explains why Matt chronically describes his parents as “clowns.”
A few real-life skateboard champs also are dropped into the mix, though no one is permitted to upstage the four leads. Or, to be more precise, their stunt doubles. (Lenser Richard Crudo carefully maneuvers shots so that faces are either deeply shadowed or out of the frame altogether.)
Wispy plot also involves under-developed romance between Eric and femme skater played by Jennifer Morrison. Unfortunately, there’s zilch chemistry between pair. La Scala tries to bring zing to their interplay with nervous camera movement during a key conversation scene, but desperation tactic is too obvious by half. Worse, a few mismatched shots look like jump cuts.
Skating scenes are unremarkable and repetitious, but bring welcome relief from interminable padding of scenes in which theleads crack wise, swap insults and sing along with the radio in their van. (Latter action is curtailed, mercifully, when van is stolen by one of Sweet Lou’s one-nights stands.) The volume of gags involving flatulence, projectile vomiting and malodorous bowel movements would seem to push “Grind to the limits of PG-13 acceptability.
Vogel and Brody do little to invigorate their stock characters. Vieluf’s full-tilt obnoxiousness suggests the wretched excess of someone who meticulously studied the performances of John Belushi and Jack Black, but learned all the wrong lessons. Kern is the only lead who evidences any talent for underplaying, even as he channels the cocky spirit of Matthew McConaughey’s insolent Dave Wooderson from “Dazed and Confused.”
“Grind” often plays like a raunchier reprise of “Extreme Days” (2001), a fresher and funnier road-trip adventure that also pivoted on the unconventional athletic abilities of four venturesome young males. The big difference is, PG-rated “Extreme” was aimed primarily (though not exclusively) at devotees of uplifting Christian-oriented pics. Also, it managed to squeak by with only one flatulence joke.