Skatetown, U.S.A. (1979)
Directed by: William A. Levey
Starring: Scott Baio, Flip Wilson, Ron Palillo, Maureen McCormick, Ruth Buzzi, Greg Bradford, Patrick Swayze, Billy Barty, Katherine Kelly Lang, Bill Kirchenbauer, Murray Langston, Denny Johnston
I remember skating rinks. Went to them as a kid. Had lots of fun skating around in a circle while disco music played. But even as a kid I never felt that roller skating was anything other than a pleasant diversion. Skatetown USA would have you believe otherwise. Skatetown USA assumes that the only world that exists is the world of roller disco. But that’s part of its charm.
Skatetown USA came out in 1979. It was the height of the roller disco craze. They even had a bunch of magazines dedicated to it. Disco Demolition night had occurred that past July, but you would never know that by watching this movie. Yes, disco was about to die, but nobody saw it coming at this moment in time. Skatetown, U.S.A. was only the first in a string of disco/skating movies – the release date for the film beat out Roller Boogie (with Linda Blair) only by a couple of months. To quote Thompson, they were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. As we all know now, that wave broke and rolled back hard.
Skatetown is a giant roller disco owned by Harvey, played by Flip Wilson. His assistants are Teri (Judy Landers), a less-than-intelligent busty blonde (the movie is full of those, and no, this isn’t a complaint) and his father Jimmy, who happens to be a midget played by the late great Billy Barty (UHF). The DJ, AKA The Wizard, is played by Denny Johnston – he’s a crazy white sorcerer with a massive afro and occasionally he shoots lasers out of his hands. I guess DJing is something he does on the side. Guests at the club this evening include Richie (Scott Baio), Suzie (Maureen McCormick), and Stanley (Greg Bradford), blonde skater from the valley. Greg Bradford was kind of a low-rent Mark Hamill, who later got into the porn business composing music. To this day, some people mistakenly believe that Mark Hamill was in this film. Except that Hamill made more money from Star Wars than this film ever made at the box office, I’m sure. Of course, everyone knows 70s icons Chachi and Marsha Brady. Don’t worry, there are plenty of more 70s icons to come before we’re through.
Anyway, Stanley is going to enter into the local skating competition (“I do alright in the streets, but this is Skatetown USA!”) The winning prize includes 1,000 bucks and a moped! The in-house “Skatetown Doctor” is played by Bill Kirchenbauer. He’s a Vietnam vet who has a flashback in the middle of the pictures and goes completely nuts. Remember – this is the late 70s, before First Blood, so a crazy vietnam vet is inherently funny, and played strictly for laughs. It’s great being in the 70s! For example, Terri occasionally drops witticisms on the oppression of women, in that adorably squeaky voice, while heaving her bosoms at people. Silly Judy Landers – boobs and feminism don’t go together! A skating competitor with a silly mustache skates around with two guns looking like Yosimite Sam. His name is Pedro Bandilito Jose Jose the 3rd AKA pistol Pete (one character calls him Pancho).
I haven’t gotten to the best part yet. There’s a skate gang (I can hear you laughing. No really – it’s a skate gang). They’re called the West Side Wheelers, and they crash Skatetown USA, throw everybody off the dance floor, and then proceed with a very feminine choreographed performance in the tradition of Fame (with skates). The DJ says “while you kids are busy getting bandaged up, let’s listen to Boogie Wonderland by Earth, Wind, and Fire!” It’s like they were part of the in-house entertainment! Did I mention that the gang leader’s name is “Ace” and is played by Patrick Swayze in his first “starring” role? Not good enough? How about Ron Palillo in a scruffy beard as Frankey, Ace’s puppy dog second in charge?
Pizza is the food of choice in this establishment. It’s run by a disgusting fat man named Ripple (played by Vic Dunlop) who does a deal with a goofy drunk (Murray Langston AKA The Unknown Comic) for some pills or something. The pills accidentally fall into the cheese grinder, which, you guessed it, makes the evening most amusing for everyone! In case the DJ wizard didn’t tip you off, Scott Baio philosophizes to Stanley about the nature of Skatetown USA (“It’s not the real world! It’s a fantasy! An illusion, a mirage!”) before Stanley lays his eyes on skating beauty Allison (Katherine Kelly Lang), who is admittedly a total babe (and she still is to this day). Too bad she’s the sister of bad guy gang leader Swayze. Ace offers Stanley a drink and Stanley says “Sorry, I don’t do soft drinks before I skate… sugar’s bad for the timing!” Ace says “Valley boy doesn’t know about the west side etiquette… Skatetown is on my turf! I win the contests! I take home the trophy, the dough, and the women!” Aww, skate gangs are so cute!
Ace, Frankey, and the gang scheme to win the contests. They use mirrors to blind a skater dressed like Uncle Sam (the wizard DJ calls him an idiot. Imagine a movie that makes fun of patriotism today – forget it!) Pistol Pete is given itching powder. Finally, Ace blackmails Harvey using some kind of scandalous photo – we are never shown what exactly the photo is, but I find it hard to believe that in this kind of environment anything would be scandalous. Stanley bests Ace in the competition, but the fix is in, and Flip Wilson gives the tropy to the Swayze. But the doubles are coming up! So Horshack seduces Marsha Brady away from the club so she can’t compete with her bro. Not to worry – Ace’s sister Allison has a change of heart, and together with love-smitten Stanley, proceeds to win the doubles crown!
Not satisfied with the “tie”, Ace challenges valley boy to a race down the pier, naturally. (“You can’t be a coward and be number one!”) The twist? The roller skates have motors on ‘em! Ace sabatoges Stanley’s brakes, but they both go off the pier into the water below. Stanley saves Ace from drowning and Ace finally succumbs to the valley boy’s charms. “I insult you, I cheat you, I even try to kill you, and then you save my life.. why?” Stanley says: “Well, I’m the hero!”. As the wizard DJ says: I told you Skatetown is a place of magic! Nobody leaves here the same as they came in!”
Musically, Skatetown USA delievers the goods. Every kind of late 70s tune is dropped – from Earth, Wind, and Fire to Dave Mason to Cheap Trick. There are so many hits in this movie, you’ll probably never get to see it on video due to the rights involved.
There’s more. Much more. David Landsberg as newlywed geek Irwin. Flip Wilson using his immortal line “What you see is what you’ll get!” (and dressing in drag to play his own mother! Even though we all know he’s doing Geraldine.) Joe E. Ross doing his “Ooh! Ooh!” cop bit – out of nowhere. Finally, if you ever wanted to see Dorothy Stratten (Playboy Playmate and subject of Star 80) sharing screen time with a Henny Youngman-like vaudeville comic Leonard Barr, this is the movie for you! The scene is simple – he does one-liners while she asks “Can I have my pizza, please?” Except it’s repeated 4 or 5 times throughout the picture. It ain’t boring, because the camera always focuses on her best assets. Now if you’re gonna pad a picture with redundant scenes, this is the way to do it!
Skatetown, USA is a true cult item and one of the best 70s time capsules around. Hell, half the cast is from Laugh-In, for cryin out loud (yes, even Ruth Buzzi shows up). It bounces back and forth from bad jokes to skating sequences in the style of a 70s variety show. The only thing missing is a laugh track. Every bad movie should aspire to reach the heights of absurdity that this movie does. There’s just something magical about a slutty Marsha eating drugged pizza with a bearded Horshack, horny girls in tight shorts, Geraldine and Billy Barty as a couple, Scott Baio as Scott Baio, fast editing involving neon lights spastic enough to induce seizures, a gay Patrick Swayze trying to act tough, and a muscled blonde riding skates on top of a skateboard. Remember – you can’t be a coward and be number one!
Dave Mason – “Skatetown”
Patrick Hernandez – “Born to be alive”
GQ – “Disco Nights”
Earth, Wind, and Fire – “Boogie Wonderland”
Dave Mason – “”Feelin’ Alright”"
Gerald Levert – “Baby Hold on to Me”
Mcfadden and Whitehead – “Ain’t no Stopping us Now”
Cheap Trick – “I Want You to Want Me”
The Jacksons – “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)”
John Sebastian – “Rollergirl”
Heatwave – “Boogie Nights”
Anita Ward – “Ring My Bell”
Dave Mason – “I Fell in Love”
Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davies Jr. – “Perfect Dancer”
The Hounds – “Under My Thumb”
John Beal and Carolyn Dennis – “Skatetown U.S.A.”
There is no official release of Skatetown USA. You can get it at Rare Hollywood, or you can just watch it on YouTube: