The world has ended so often in fantasy films that it's become a bad joke: my civilization collapsed and all I got was this lousy B movie. George Miller's MAD MAX and its countless imitators set the cliches in stone--desolate post-nuke music-video landscapes, barbaric mutants,
loner/mercenary/samurai/cowboy/gunslinger heroes all waging the eternal fight for good against evil with armored motor vehicles and automatic weapons. At least PRAYER OF THE ROLLERBOYS comes up with a clever premise for its apres-apocalypse setting, but the saga that unravels therein goes out not
with a bang but a whimper.
During a dynamic opening credit sequence a youthful narrator reveals that the bomb dropped here was not atomic but economic. Deficit spending and industrial disasters have plunged America into bottomless recession and "alien races foreclosed on our nation while we were locked in homeless camps,"
all leaving the once-proud US a disgraced, polluted third-world ghetto where the Dow Jones average falls 150 points daily, Harvard University has been relocated brick-by-brick to an acquisitive Japan, and thousands of American refugees try to slip over the border to look for jobs--in Mexico.
Though a weak central government tries to keep order, a rising force in the LA wastelands (played by a rubble-strewn Venice, California) is the Rollerboys, an elite street gang of young Aryan thugs who cruise the pavement in wedge formation atop in-line rollerskates, trademark white longcoats
flapping artfully in sync. These dancing droogs gain power through protection rackets and drug-dealing, while their charismatic, crucifix-wearing leader Gary Lee (Christopher Collet) peddles white supremacy to kids via Rollerboy comic books and biblical injunctions about an upcoming "Day of the
Rope" in which Caucasian America will triumph over ethnic parasites and foreign creditors.
The hero of the piece is Chris Griffin (Corey Haim), ex-pal of Gary Lee, now holding a chintzy delivery job and looking after trouble-prone little brother Milton (Devin Clark). Chris gets approached by cop Jaworski (J.C. Quinn) to go undercover as a Rollerboy and help get the goods on their chief.
Chris accepts when he sees Milton seduced by the gang's propaganda--and their new drug, an addictive narcotic called "mist." So Chris passes a deadly initiation and starts hangin' with the R-boys. It turns out Gary Lee has vast investments in utilities, real estate and lawyers, and intends to turn
the Rollerboys into a true neofascist political organization. They manufacture mist (ingredients provided by the Chinese), and once its use has spread through all "undesirable" levels of society Gary Lee plans to release a poisoned batch to get rid of all users in one swipe--the promised Day of
the Rope--ushering in a Rollerboy Reich.
Having erected their neat little dystopia the filmmakers plod through it in predictable fashion, touching all the undercover-agent-in-jeopardy checkpoints still warm from genre reruns like STONE COLD and POINT BREAK. After some close scrapes and loopholes in logic, Chris leads the forces of
relative law and order to raid the secret Rollerboy mist factory, but the showdown is routine. A sequel-pregnant open ending finds nothing really changed, all the pieces in place for another round; vengeful Gary Lee still runs his criminal empire from prison through a phalanx of lawyers, while
Chris and his friends hit the road in an ex-Rollerboy relocation program. One gets the impression that screenwriter W. Peter Iliff had a lot more fun mischievously constructing the worst of all possible worlds (when a Rollerboy boasts that he's buying up America, an Asian businessman snorts, "Who
would want it?") than in outfitting a satisfactory story.
Corey Haim (THE LOST BOYS, DREAM A LITTLE DREAM), the face that launched a thousand teen magazine covers, does okay in the roughneck action role, but despite all the death and mayhem a persistent sense of juvenilia hangs over PRAYER OF THE ROLLERBOYS. In fairness, the movie's major sin is guilt by
association. So many awful ROAD WARRIOR retreads have chugged their way across screens big and small that to stand out from the convoy a new arrival has to be not merely good but very good, and realized in a ferociously fresh manner. While some viewers may think sci-fi skanks on skates an original
concept, it's been done before, notably in the quasi-satirical ROLLER BLADE and SHREDDER ORPHEUS.
With its flip cynicism, thrash-punk futuristics and underaged, paper-thin characters, PRAYER OF THE ROLLERBOYS owes much to violent Japanese "manga" comics and their most resplendent transliteration to the cinema, the cartoon epic AKIRA. The relationship didn't stop at style; despite all the plot
potshots at international corporate imperialists and avaricious Orientals, Japanese companies like Gaga Communications and TV Tokyo helped finance this film, which was a fledgling effort from the production end of Academy Entertainment, a prominent home-video distributor. (Violence, substanceabuse, profanity, adult situations, nudity, sexual situations.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: The world has ended so often in fantasy films that it's become a bad joke: my civilization collapsed and all I got was this lousy B movie. George Miller's MAD MAX and its countless imitators set the cliches in stone--desolate post-nuke music-video landscap… (more)