So I’m getting near to the 100th review on here (What will it be?) so I thought I’d up the ante in preparation. Then I decided to watch Gleaming The Cube instead. Here’s a film I had not seen since I was about 8 years old. All I could remember was that it was incredibly 80s, Christian Slater was in it and there was this awesome bit where he made an impossibly long jump to clobber a guy with his rad new board. Oh and his skateboarding double during the end credits looked nothing like him. That’s because it was a young Rodney Mullen, king of the flatland trick. So what was Gleaming The Cube like 21 years later? Click the jump to find out!
I’ve always liked skateboarding. Its always been the most radical of all extreme sports. I suck at it, of course, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a good bit of skateboarding. There’s been a few films about skateboarding over the years, the excellent Lords Of Dogtown being one good example. Gleaming The Cube is no Lords Of Dogtown. See today’s movie in question is one of those films that was designed to latch onto the popularity of skateboarding at the time. Kind of like how BMX Bandits was designed for the same purpose in the early 80s. I nice parallel is that whilst BMX Bandits launched the career of Nicole Kidman Gleaming The Cube did the same for Christian Slater. Well, to a certain extent.
What sets Gleaming The Cube above it’s Aussie brethren is that it’s actually a pretty serviceable film and it treats its hook with a little more respect. This film is clearly very well researched, helped largely by it’s Co-Producer and skateboarding/yoga legend Stacy Peralta. You can tell that some real effort has been afforded into making sure that the representations of the skateboarders and their past time are depicted accurately. Well except maybe using a helicopter to look for empty pools to skate in. Not saying that never happened, those Z-Town boys did get quite successful after all, but it’s an unlikely element.
Onto the story then. Brian Kelly (Christian Slater) is a 16 year old skater that’s all rebellion and pent up aggression. He does his best to be alternative because people don’t understand his lifestyle. One day his adopted Vietnamese brother Vinh (Art Chudabala) is found dead in a motel after an apparent suicide. We know better and instincts tell Brian that he should too. Before too long his attempts to find answers leads him to be uncovering a larger scale mystery, one his brother had stumbled onto the night before his death. The police aren’t being too much help and so it’s up to Brian to figure out the mystery surrounding Vinh’s death which requires not just a little creative investigating but skateboarding. Oh and he learns lessons about himself to discover how to grow and find his place in the world.
The film is actually littered with plenty of elements to make sure it always stays a step above other such films. There’s a lot of Cold War and post Vietnam America elements thrown in there which serve to represent the mindset of the country at the time. Brian talks about how there’s no point working towards a future when there likely won’t be one. One of his friends lives in a favourite money sink of Cold War era America, his parent nuclear shelter. Obviously there’s also Vinh and the family of his girlfriend Tina. To add to all this Brian is actually a character with a decent amount of depth. His family believe him to be awkward because of them adopting Vinh when in reality he’s just a troubled child. He has plenty of self discoveries to make along the way as well as criminal based ones.
While the film is perfectly serviceable as a teen thriller it does have it’s share of faults. Slater is about the only actor in the entire cast that at least tries to not sound like he’s in a daytime soap opera. Camera work is pretty basic with very few moments of using the skateboarding gimmick as a chance to shoot some of the action sequences with a little more flair. The soundtrack is pure 80s synth rock, the sort you’d expect from Vince DiCola. Normally I wouldn’t mind but there only seems to be a handful of pieces of music used in the film. Although there is some nice Vietnamese covers of a few pop songs in one scene. The ADR is also pretty dodgy. The first time we see Tina’s father, Colonel Trac, he is accompanied by a ADR track that can only be described as sounding like it was ripped from a Kung Fu film. Its distracting, to me at least, when a character’s vocal tone suddenly shifts. Good ADR is invisible, most people don’t even realise just how much of their films has had dialogue recorded later. Here it’s just very obvious.
The films main issue though is the lack of fully fleshed out supporting characters. They have their odd moments, such as when one of Brian’s friends tries to reach out to him while at risk of breaking his persona, but none of the characters are as rounded as Brian’s. The supporting casts performances also don’t help. The effect this lack of character and performance has is that whilst Christian Slater might be doing everything he can to engage you the rest of the cast just feel out of place.
Gleaming the Cube does have plenty of memorable moments though. The films final chase sequence is actually staged quite well, even if it does lack some immediacy. There’s also plenty of fun to be had looking for relics of the 80s. Chuckle at the clunky laptop Vinh uses at the start. Get all nostalgic at the sound of a cameras flash warming up. Guffaw at the fashions of the day! There’s no questioning just how dated Gleaming The Cube is. Luckily it’s just good enough to stop its dating being a distraction. Unlike BMX Bandits where the sheer amount of dayglow pink and yellow were enough to take you out of the experience.
So that’s Gleaming The Cube. A decent if not good film that’s just enough above the average to make it worth a view. It’s retro, it looks like it was made for TV and its lead uses a copious amount of hairspray. But its also pretty enjoyable. Only 1 more review to go until I reach number 100. The next film will be David Fincher’s Zodiac. What could I possibly follow that with? Come back Saturday to find out! Oh, and read the Zodiac review too of course.