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'Roll Bounce' slides back to the '70s with an earnest, feel-good vibe

In the opening shot of ''Roll Bounce," a big disco ball shines its shimmering light on a young black man who dreams bold dreams of polyester greatness. Foolhardy? Hollywood doesn't think so. We may live in a time of inline skates and Xtreme Games, but this nostalgic licorice whip of a movie assumes there's still an audience for a straight-faced, family-friendly salute to the 1970s heyday of competitive roller disco.

''Roll Bounce" basically bets that today's kids are willing and able to be transported by an extended episode of ''What's Happening!!" on skates. It courts every baby boomer who aches for another pass at the era that gave us Linda Blair in ''Roller Boogie." It even says scoot over, John Travolta and Sister Sledge, because Snoop Dogg protege Bow Wow (''Like Mike") is here to represent the new generation of disco cool.

And some may actually fall for it.

Most of the preteen fans of Bow Wow (born Shad Gregory Moss), for example, won't care that the movie's script is corny and predictable; they'll just be happy he's shaking his adorable booty on the big screen. That gives writer Norman Vance Jr. (''Beauty Shop") and director Malcolm D. Lee (''The Best Man," ''Undercover Brother") license to be so laughably reverential and sanitizing about this cultural scene that anyone who actually lived through it will wonder if the filmmakers have ever heard of sex, drugs, or Tango hangovers.

''Roll Bounce" begins in 1978, as Chicago's Palisades Gardens is in the process of shutting down, leaving South Side eight-wheelers without a local skating venue. Xavier (Bow Wow), known as X, and friends decide to venture north to inspect the slick Sweetwater rink, where an embarrassing incident leaves them vowing to come back for a skate-off. Only, to win they'll need moves that outdo Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan), the limber and rhythmic Fonzie of this arena.

At the same time, Xavier is dealing with problems on the home front: His widowed, stressed-out father (Chi McBride) can't understand why his son spends so much time spinning his wheels. X, still grieving over his mother's death, finds support in his cartoon-like buddies -- wise-cracking Junior (Brandon T. Jackson), shy guy Boo (Marcus T. Paulk), biracial Mixed Mike (Khleo Thomas), and the big-haired Puerto Rican known as Naps (Rick Gonzalez). He's also trailed by a brace-faced girl (Jurnee Smollett ), charmed by an uptown beauty (Meagan Good), and kind to comic actors (Nick Cannon, Mike Epps) who show up in small roles on par with the script's stale yo' mama jokes. With sitcom swiftness, most complicated issues get resolved before everyone migrates to the big skate-off finale, during which X actually kisses his skate key in a nod to his dead mother.

Yes, it really is that drippy.

The retro soundtrack (''Le Freak"!) is fine, and the skating, supervised by roller disco legend Bill Butler, would be even finer if it wasn't led by Bow Wow, whose clunky-cute moves are easily out-dazzled by the many talented extras.

See ''Roll Bounce" for those extra moments, and definitely see it this weekend if you want 10 percent of your ticket proceeds to go to Operation USA for Hurricane Katrina relief. But please don't see it to relive 1978. Even under a roller disco ball, 1978 was never like this.

Janice Page can be reached at

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