Wassup Rockers

Wassup Rockers

2006, R, 99 min. Directed by Larry Clark. Starring Jonathan Velasquez, Francisco Pedrasa, Milton Velasquez, Yunior Usualdo Panameno, Eddie Velasquez, Luis Rojas-Salgado, Carlos Velasco, Iris Zelaya, Laura Cellner, Jessica Steinbaum, Janice Dickinson.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 14, 2006

My, how the Kids director has grown. Or maybe that should be hasn’t grown. Ten years after Kids, Larry Clark’s notorious film debut about New York City adolescents and their casual and callous behavior regarding sex and drugs, the writer-director shifts his focus to the other coast and points his camera at an exclusively male group of 14 to 16-year-old Latinos. Although Wassup Rockers doesn’t feel as pruriently exploitative as Kids or Clark’s recent, unreleased feature Ken Park, the film isn’t completely free of voyeuristic tendencies. Clark’s uncomfortable observation of teen flesh is undeniable, yet I’d also argue that the filmmaker has a certain affinity with his subject, which he is able to translate into articulate expressions of teenage anomie. In Wassup Rockers, as in his other films, Clark creates a naturalistic tone that lends his fictions an almost documentarylike feel. The seven teens in this movie are Latinos who all hail from Los Angeles’ South Central district – or to put it more simply, “the ghetto,” as one of the kids replies whenever he’s asked where he lives. They‘re all skateboaders and into punk music and skintight jeans – characteristics that cause them to be hassled by the neighborhood’s predominantly black, rap-loving teens in baggy pants with stashed guns. The movie takes place in a 24-hour period during which they “borrow” a car to go to a cool skateboarding spot in Beverly Hills, get pulled over by a bicycle cop and abandon the car, continue on by bus, practice jumps, get hit on by a couple of 90210 girls who are into dangerous boys, and then flee when the boyfriends come home. Making their escape, they hop from one palatial back yard to the next, encountering a party at the home of a flamboyantly gay photographer, a drunk matron who gives one boy a bubble bath, and a filmmaker who shoots trespassers first and asks questions later. The boys fit in no better here than they do in their own neighborhood. Each of the characters plays some version of his real self, although Jonathan Velasquez as a character named Jonathan is the one who stands out to both his friends and the audience. One who’s nicknamed Spermball (Milton Velasquez) makes a valiant attempt to get his friends to call him by his real name, Milton; they all chafe at the world’s presumption that they are Mexican when they are instead Salvadorian. While these kids are portrayed with a great deal of sensitivity for their situation, everyone else in the movie – the black ghetto teens and the white Beverly Hills society – is portrayed in garish stereotypes that dispel the movie’s sense of realism. As a filmmaker, Clark still seems more beholden to his roots as a still photographer: Images are sometimes worth a thousand words, but, ultimately, they will always be skin-deep.

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Wassup Rockers, Larry Clark, Jonathan Velasquez, Francisco Pedrasa, Milton Velasquez, Yunior Usualdo Panameno, Eddie Velasquez, Luis Rojas-Salgado, Carlos Velasco, Iris Zelaya, Laura Cellner, Jessica Steinbaum, Janice Dickinson

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