Downhill Dangerous


Although skateboarding as a sport is still very much alive and kicking (unlike poor, disregarded rollerblades), the era of skateboarding was very much in the 1980s. We already covered one movie giving us a taste of that sweet skateboard culture, Gleaming the Cube, and it was delightful. I mean terrible. Terrible and delightful. It was a movie that struck me as so 1980s that you couldn’t imagine a more perfect encapsulation of 1980s skateboarding life than the Cube. It had Christian Slater in it. It had Tony Hawk in it! It featured the power of skateboarding used to solve crimes! How much more 1980s could you get than that?

Well, we have an answer to that question and it’s 1986’s Thrashin’. Sure, Gleaming the Cube has a crime that was solved through skateboarding, but Thrashin’ tells us that skateboarding can be used to solve life, man. It is life. It’s all that you need, and more. Want to get ahead in the world? Skateboard it. Want to win over that girl you like? Skateboard for her. Need to one-up a rival from another gang? Beat him at skateboarding. Nothing in this movie is impossible if you have a rolling board under your feet, the open air above you, and the power of 1980s jams.

Not that I think one of these movies is better than the other. They’re both pretty terrible but in different ways. If I wanted a movie that actually had a plot, and characters, and sent me on a path through a story I’d go with Gleaming the Cube. Terrible as that film is, it has direction and narrative. But if I just want to vibe with the 1980s, to just, you know, feel it, man, then absolutely I’m going with Thrashin’. It’s that perfect kind of 1980s terrible that so few films could match outside the decade (although a few have tried over the years).

The best way to describe Thrashin’ is to take Point Break or The Fast and the Furious, except remove the “cop trying to catch criminals” storyline, and then add on the race at the end of Tokyo Drift for good measure. Josh Brolin (hot off The Goonies) plays Corey Webster, a skater boy with aspirations to make it big. He hangs out with his skater friends, The Ramp Locals, who hang out in the Valley and spend their days skating around town. But a trip to Venice Beach to sample the skating delights there puts Corey on the outs with their skater gang, The Daggers, and its leader, Tommy Hook (Robert Rusler). However, it also leads to a chance encounter with Tommy’s younger sister, Chrissy (Pamela Gidley), who finds Corey to be, as the kids put it, a fetching young lad.

Over a couple of further meetings, Corey woos Chrissy and the two hit it off, much to the chagrin of Tommy. He decides to start coming after the Ramp Locals, burning down the half-pipe ramp they built, attacking them on the streets, and generally making their lives hell. Corey and Tommy agree to a duel to settle things, a “fun” game like jousting, but no one is supposed to be seriously hurt. Only Tommy then purposefully breaks Corey’s arm. This, just before the big, downhill competition, “LA Massacre”. Can Corey compete against Tommy and win the event, earn the thousand dollar prize, and get the sponsorship deal riding on the win, or will his broken arm hold him back. Only one way to find out…

Thrashin’ is a movie that almost, very nearly comes together, if only it had more drive or story or anything to keep it going. I compare it to Point Break because both films have a very similar story. Outsider guy meets the girl inside a group of bad boys, falls for her, and then comes to blows with the leader/her brother and has to somehow find a way to resolve their differences through their chosen sport. Whether it’s skateboarding or surfing or car racing you can feel the joint DNA running through all these movies. The only thing different with Thrashin’ and Point Break (which came out five years later) is that Point Break has a plot outside the surfing. Thrashin’ doesn’t have that and you can feel the lack of more story really holding the film back.

There really is only so much mileage the film can get out of the beef between two skater boys. Their entire fight stems from the fact that Corey is from the Valley and Tommy is from Venice Beach and Valley boys aren’t welcome at the beach. That’s it. He doesn’t hate that Corey is a good skater, or that he’s trying to date Crissy. His entire beef comes down to districts in L.A., like a low-rent West Side Story. “You’re a Ramper and I’m a Dagger and the two of us can never get along, man.” And then you expect them to sing and dance… except they don’t.

Hell, singing and dancing would be vastly more interesting than what the film uses to fill time: skating. Now, don’t get me wrong, if the film has good skating in it then it would be something to watch. But all the actors in the film also do (most) of their own stunts, which is commendable in a way, and you can tell that holds the film back. While Brolin does handle himself on the board fairly well, looking comfortable and willing to pull a few solid tricks, there are things he won’t do, and that the other actors couldn’t do. It gives the skating a sloppy feel that doesn’t quite work. Sure, it makes Brolin look better, but the bar isn’t really that high. It’s not like if Tony Hawk were the one doing the stunts in this movie, for example.

This really becomes an issue in the last, climactic skating sequence: the L.A. Massacre. This is supposed to be a super difficult, relentlessly twisting, twenty-mile downhill skate with speeds up to sixty miles an hour. Spoiler: it’s pretty clear the actors get nowhere near that speed on their skateboards. I can’t blame them for that as that sounds like a super dangerous thing to do on just a bit of plywood with wheels (which the movie, bear in mind, clearly emphasizes). That does also mean, though, that whenever we see the actors doing the downhill scenes, it feels far slower than it’s supposed to because these guys aren’t really going 60, all out. Maybe 15, some out at best.

What the film needs are stakes. Since the skating can only be so good we need to be able to get invested in the story and there just isn’t enough here. That’s why a film like Point Break had a crime story running alongside the surfing and fun being had by the characters. That added stakes to the film, the question of whether the lead would catch the bad guy or if they’d somehow get free. When everything is building to a single sporting event, and Corey is clearly the better skater, there’s basically no drama about whether Corey will win or not. This isn’t Rocky. It’s not even in the same dramatic area code as Rocky. This is a silly little skating movie with absolutely no dramatic weight to it.

The worst thing about it is that, for a skating movie, you really wish there wasn’t so much skating. After a while I just wanted to get back to the characters so I could see them have the same fight over and over before they finally got to do the downhill event. The acting in the film isn’t bad (or, at least, it could be much worse) and the characters are decently sketched out. Certainly everyone puts their hearts into it and that counts for something. I liked the characters over the skating, and this film is basically all skating. If it had been the other way around, where I was bored of the characters but liked the skating, I might have enjoyed this more. But then I’d be able to get my fix just watching skating on YouTube.

Thrashin’ really is a movie of its time. It’s loose, threadbare, with little story and poorly filmed skating. But at the time this was the only way to get into skating culture and see it on the screen (even if it wasn’t accurate in any real way). This was a film for 1980s kids that wanted to love skating and it catered to them. It wasn’t good, or honest, or well made but hey, it did put skating on the screen and that suited some just fine. It’s a relic now, though, and there are better stories like it, and much better skating, found elsewhere. Even in Gleaming the Cube, and it pains me to say that.