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Film review: 'Rockers' turns into a bizarre cartoon

Published: Friday, July 14 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

WASSUP ROCKERS — ** — Jonathan Velasquez, Francisco Pedrasa, Milton Velasquez; rated R (profanity, violence, vulgarity, sex, racial epithets, brief nudity).

Most of the movies by filmmaker Larry Clark ("Kids," "Bully") have a disturbingly voyeuristic quality. It's almost like we're watching something we weren't supposed to see.

That has as much to do with the pseudo-documentary shooting style he favors as it does with the lingering, leering close-up shots of teens in various states of undress, which are just as typical of Clark's works.

But his latest, titled "Wassup Rockers," does have some merit and charm — that is, until its final third, where the initially realistic drama takes a turn into the truly bizarre and surreal. At that point, the film becomes a grotesque, nearly unwatchable cartoon.

The "rockers" title refers to a group of Hispanic teens and preteens from South Central Los Angeles. Lately they've been skateboarding and trying to start a punk-rock band.

They've also had a few run-ins with their fellow students —some of it having to do with the ultra-tight "rocker" clothing they wear.

But the teens venture out of their comfort zone when the car they've been using is impounded and they're forced to take public transportation. Somehow they wind up in Beverly Hills, where they get into all sorts of trouble.

Co-screenwriter/director Clark was obviously intent on making a statement about the supposed racial divide and class differences in Los Angeles. He ignores story coherence and good storytelling altogether. (The last third of the movie doesn't really fit with the rest.)

However, his young cast — most of them newcomers — are fresh-faced and appealing. Lead Jonathan Velasquez wrote and performed some of the film's songs, which provide highlights.

"Wassup Rockers" is rated R for frequent use of strong sexual profanity and other sexually suggestive language (including slang), skateboarding violence (as well as two shootings and some fisticuffs), brief sexual contact and implied sex, use of racial epithets and brief flashes of nudity (nude statues, as well as some partial male nudity). Running time: 99 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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