Another kids-doing-the-darndest-things docu in the mode of “Spellbound,” sharply crafted “Doubletime,” by debuting feature helmer Stephanie Johnes, follows two high-ranking school teams in competitive jump rope and Double Dutch. Engaging personalities and jaw-dropping routines make this a crowd-pleaser with solid niche theatrical potential before it lands on cable.
The USA Jump Rope Federation and American Double Dutch League are separate overseeing orgs nearly 40 years old, with distinct rules, styles and participants. The Jump Rope Federation, founded by Richard Cendali, has a more formal emphasis on athletic speed and precision, and a largely white, middle-class following. The Double Dutch League, begun by David Walker to fill a girls’ team-sport void in New York’s poorer communities, is highly theatrical and dance-oriented, popular among urban or rural black schoolkids mostly. Both can be dazzling in their mix of acrobatics, synchronization — with up to four kids jumping together at once — and personal style.
The two champion teams followed through a season here perfectly illustrate the differences between the leagues. Coach Ray Fredrick is black, but his Bouncing Bulldogs team consists of well-off white kids living in comfortable North Carolina college town Chapel Hill. He says his most difficult task is motivating children who’ve never really had to work hard for anything.
Two hundred miles away in the small South Carolina town of Columbia, even the most motivated youth often have to forgo college because they simply can’t afford it — like honors student Antoine Cutner, a crowd-pleaser among the Double Dutch Forces. Joy Holman founded the team in 1985.
Johnes zeroes in on some of the strongest personalities — as well as athletes — on each team, finding some interesting parallels. When both groups are invited for the first time to a raucous annual Double Dutch spectacular at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, the Bulldogs fly there en masse, while a reduced number of the Force makes the long drive, then must use an off-hours fast food joint as practice space.
But “Doubletime” isn’t about racial inequity, much as that hovers in the background. It’s primarily about kids gaining pride, discipline and attention from learning to do something very,very well. Even without the well-tuned human interest angles, the docu would be a winner for its performance sequences, which combine elements of everything from hip-hop dance to cheerleading and gymnastics.
Lensing and editing are sharp. Excellent soundtrack is dominated by hip-hop tracks, though arguably the most exciting montage here is scored to the Ceasars’ “Jerk It Out,” the lone rock cut.