Wassup Rockers

Of all the things that Larry Clark does, he does nothing better than stir controversy. His first film, Kids, causes a sensation for its graphic and nihilistic look at a group of young people and the horrendous acts they did. Bully was similar. Then nobody really saw Ken Park. So here's what people can learn from watching Clark's films - he means to stoke controversy, and often has little substance in the film. Clark enjoys pushing the envelope, and seeing how people react, usually badly. Then, he proclaims that what he is doing is art, that it is important, and that it reflects reality.

Wassup Rockers began when Clark met Jonathan Velasquez. Velasquez lived in South Central, and he and his group of friends were very different than the stereotypical kids there. They wore tight clothes and grew their hair long, looking like something out of an Eighties metal band. This earned them the derogatory nickname of "rockers." Clark followed them around for two years, then decided to write a film around their experiences. Velasquez and his friends play themselves. They are not professional actors, and it shows. The film opens with footage of Velasquez when he is twelve. Every other word out of his mouth is "and then." And of course, he's not wearing a shirt, and everything looks vaguely pornographic.

The truly sad thing about Wassup Rockers is that it actually had some potential. It feels like a strange experiment in cinema verite. There is not much of a plot at the beginning; Clark simply follows Velasquez and his friends around as they wake up, go to school, talk, and skateboard. All of them live in the same house. There are no parents around anywhere. They still go to school, but would rather play in their punk band (which provides some of the music in the film). The first part of Wassup Rockers feels voyeuristic, as if the audience is spying on what is happening between these friends. These are real kids; not actors. Clark worked with a minimal script, and even had some of the kids talk about their own experiences.

Then, Clark throws it all out the window. The kids decide to go to Beverly Hills High School to skateboard. They meet some girls, get into a fight with some rich boys, then embark on an adventure that feels like a stupid movie. Every rich white person that Clark has on screen is a monstrous caricature. Horny high school girls, weirdly dressed preppy kids, drunk old rich white women, gun-toting rich old white men, and boorish policeman stand in the way of having a good time. What happened to the feeling of reality that Clark cultivated? Everything that can possibly go wrong in Beverly Hills does, and the plot, or what little there is, becomes completely preposterous. Clark should have kept his kids in South Central.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 39 minutes, Rated R for pervasive language, some violence, sexual content, and teen drinking.

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