Review: ‘Rocksteady’

Do “indie films” have to follow different rules than those movies we deem “mainstream”? Is the definition of independence merely a matter of financial constraints and alternate distribution patterns, or is there something about the work itself that marks it as separate and special? These are much-discussed and debated issues, and perhaps it’s unfair to dump them on the shoulders of so wispy a film as “Rocksteady.” But they crossed my mind more than once during Mustapha Khan’s genial but hopelessly generic film: the coming-of-age tale of directionless small-town 20-something B.C. (Cedric Sanders), who takes up amateur stock-car driving in the hopes of winning enough money to move to Los Angeles. If we one upped the film’s production values and replaced Sanders with, say, Zac Efron, how much would really change?

Not a lot. Too often “Rocksteady” feels like it’s aping the style and tone of bigger-budget comedies, relying upon character arcs and humor reminiscent of countless other movies. The cliches are all here, from pothead friend Rudi (Jonathan Orsini) wisecracking between bong hits; to the burgeoning romance between B.C. and home-for-the-summer college student Faith (Natalie Knepp); to the memories of B.C.’s saintly deceased father shared between B.C. and his concerned but supportive mother (Sharon Washington). As written by Stephen Hays and Kevin Shine, these scenes rarely rise above screenwriting 101 banality, with B.C. and Rudi’s banter coming off as particularly strained despite Sanders and Orsini’s easy rapport.

“Rocksteady”‘s potential bid for “indie” originality comes in its acknowledgment of racial difference. Yet there’s something muddled and skittish about the film’s treatment of race, ducking the very issues it seems to be bringing up. The film establishes B.C. as among the only black men in the lily-white upstate New York town of Drifton. When he assists a Jamaican singer (David Hinds) who incongruously appears along a country road in a broken-down van, their shared cultural heritage — B.C.’s father immigrated to the town from Jamaica — seems to imply a connection between B.C.’s rekindled ambitions and a more-forceful recognition of his personal identity. Yet any sense of displacement based on race remains largely theoretical. Drifton’s residents seem decidedly post-racial in its outlook, with even the supposedly close-minded stock-car racers coming off as essentially decent folk. One doesn’t expect racism to play a major role in what is essentially a light-hearted comedy. But to draw attention to its protagonist’s complicated social position, only to paper over any tensions this may cause, feels like a missed opportunity at best.

Khan’s direction feels strongest in the film’s laid-back moments, including a pair of party scenes scored to the mellifluous sounds of reggae band Steel Pulse (led by Hinds, who wrote original songs for the film as well). Pausing the screenplay’s rote narrative and capturing stray bits of laughter and happiness, these sequences gesture toward the looser, more free-flowing film that “Rocksteady” might have been. Khan certainly seems more invested here than he does in the stock car scenes, which feel dutiful rather than inspired — though an early-film car chase does pay stylish homage to such ’70s thrillers as “Bullitt” and “The French Connection.” Indeed, Khan and Co. would have done well to remember the vast range of influences one can call upon when crafting a modern-day “indie” film, as well as the hopeful expectations of an audience expecting something fresh and different. Why settle for repeating the mistakes of bigger — and usually not better — movies?

Rating: 2 stars (Fair)

– Matt Connolly

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form.
  • Categories

  • Archives