So last year, on my wife’s birthday, I did a rundown of everything that is awesome about the 1989 Robyn Lively classic Teen Witch. I thought I’d do something similar. Now, there wasn’t a Teen Witch 2 or a Teen Witch Too, which is kind of a shame because if they could make a sequel to shit like Zapped!, they could surely make a sequel to Teen Witch. I mean, it’s not like the cast members of the first movie all went on to superstardom.
Instead, I felt like taking a look at a movie that I know that she doesn’t necessarily love but has probably seen as many times as some people have seen Star Wars, which is the 1993 rollerblading movie, Airborne.
Yes, in 1993 someone decided to make a teen/sports movie whose focus was rollerblading.
Now, in my wife’s defense I am sure she’s only sat through this entire movie a couple of times and it’s not her Star Wars by any means. However, I think that we both have lost count of the number of times that we’ve been flipping channels only to come across this movie, usually on one of the high-numbered random-assed movie channels that we get as part of our basic cable plan (like “FLIX”) or one of the assorted Disney-owned channels like ABC Family. You’d think that an 18-year-old movie about a niche sport that never really caught on would spend time wallowing in obscurity only to be occasionally retrieved from the bowels of Netflix instant streaming or one of the few remaining video stores throughout the land.
However, as we all know, there really aren’t any video stores left in the land (and certainly not many that have a VHS inventory or would have bought Airborne on DVD). Plus, this is not available on Netflix at all. And I’d like to say “Thankfully, it’s on cable all the time so I got the chance to tape and watch it,” but I can’t even do that because when I sat down to prep for this entry I couldn’t find it anywhere in my television listings. So I had to watch this movie “illegally” in a sense: in ten-minute increments on YouTube. No, really. I mean, I could have rented it from YouTube for $2.99 but it’s not worth that price (plus, isn’t that why I have a Netflix subscription) but someone took the time and the effort to break the movie into segments and post them in “parts” up on YouTube. It’s a little tedious and a couple of the parts are missing a few minutes but overall worth not having to pay for it.
The film stars Shane McDermott, whose only other role of note is that of the “second Scott Chandler” on All My Children (the “third Scott Chandler,” by the way, was played by Daniel Cosgrove who is notable for being Kelly Taylor’s relationship fodder during the last couple of seasons of Beverly Hills, 90210) as Mitchell Goosen, a surfer and rollerblader kid from Southern Calfornia. We know he’s from Southern California because he uses the word “bra” about 1,000 times in the course of 90 minutes, never goes anywhere without his surfboard, and constantly waxes philosophical because he’s a California surfer and therefore all zen about these things. But when his zoologist parents get a grant to study in Australia, he is shipped off to Cincinnati to live with his aunt and uncle (his uncle is Mr. Dewey from Saved By the Bell and his aunt? The always awesome Edie McClurg, who is at her Mrs. Poole-iest).
Once there, he runs afoul of most of the kids in his new school who are tough and hold their participation in hockey above all other things, although he does attract a girl named Nikki (Brittney Powell) who is not only the sister of one of the high school’s ruffians but is the ex-girlfriend of the head guy of the “opposing gang” of high school douches, which include a guy named Auggie played by a then-unknown Jack Black (yes, that Jack Black!).
Wait … kid moves across the country, runs afoul of a group of people who are involved in a niche sport, falls for popular and pretty girl … this sounds familiar. Yeah, add a wise Asian guy to teach him said sport and you have The Karate Kid. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the pitch meeting for this film went something like, “It’s The Karate Kid! On rollerblades!”
Mitchell-san (okay, I’ll only make that joke once), like I said, has a hard time adjusting to high school in Cincinnati. Sure, he’s got his cousin, Wiley (played by Seth Green who is the link between 1980s and 1990s teen movies), but Wiley is … well, a dork. Not a dork in the sense that I’m a dork, but a dork in the sense that he is one of those guys who is regularly ignored and while he enjoys the same sports that the other guys in the high school enjoy, he sucks at them. This is evidenced by the fact that the high school roughs–led by a guy named Jack–have him play hockey when they need an extra guy and Wiley keeps falling on his ass.
Hockey is the central thing for people at this high school. Jack and a rather multicultural group of guys finds themselves facing off against a group of preppy guys led by a guy named Blaine who is clearly the Billy Zabka of the film. If you’re thinking Greasers and Socs play hockey, you’re right. And while Mitchell’s watching The Oustiders on Ice, he chats up Nikki who seems to really like him. This is interrupted when another guy gets injured on the ice and Jack picks Mitchell to come in to the game (because that … happens) and then Mitchell scores on his own goal.
To which I kind of call bullshit, by the way, because even if Mitchell had been flirting with Nikki and not paying very much attention to the game, he should have known enough to know which guys were on his team and which were on the opposing team so that he wouldn’t take a slap shot on his own goal. Yeah, not some “Oh it trickles between the goalie’s legs because I lost control of the puck” shot, but a freaking blue-line slap shot. No wonder he gets the shit kicked out of him afterwards.
Furthermore, they are playing ice hockey in a pickup-game fashion on a public rink. But soon after the game of ice hockey is abandoned and it’s all about roller blades and roller hockey and nobody seems to notice. You know, as if there’s no actual league-sanctioned competition going on her but just two rival gangs of high-schoolers facing off in various versions of hockey. I am assuming that the big air hockey and Nok Hockey scenes were cut.
So at this point there are three things that need to happen in order for us to get to the awesome climax that a movie whose title is Airborne obviously promises. First, Mitchell (and Wiley, by association) needs to be roughed up some more. Second, the romantic subplot needs to develop. Third, Mitchell needs to get so frustrated that he more or less gives up. And fourth, he needs to redeem himself in someone’s eyes.
Well, it pretty much happens in that order. Jack and his friends pull a series of elaborate pranks on both guys, which include filling Mitchell’s locker with sand and stealing his clothes when he’s in the gym shower (to which I call bullshit again because unless he’s on a team I don’t know of any school, even in the Nineties, that still made guys shower after gym) but Mitchell is not deterred because he’s a California surfer and therefore all zen about such things. Plus, Nikki likes him. They have a romantic walk through a botanical garden and go on a date for which she provides Wiley with a girl, Gloria (Alanna Ubach, who would play Noreen, the girl who had a crush on Marcia in The Brady Bunch Movie), who hates him at first but will eventually fall for.
It’s during that date where Mitchell has his bottom out moment. Blaine and the Hockey Socs show up at the diner where they’re eating and harass him. Then, Jack (who is her brother … DUN DUN DUN!) shows up and there’s a lot of fighting. Mitchell more or less refuses to fight because he’s a California surfer and therefore all zen about such things, but he does get pissed and gives a speech culminating in the statement that he’s goin’ back to Cali in three months and nothing here matters to him. Which pisses Nikki off.
His moment of redemption? After some crazy dream involving a shark and waves (because he’s a California surfer and therefore all zen about such things), Mitchell goes to the latest Hockey Greasers vs. Hockey Socs game, which is now a roller hockey game, and gets himself in. Suddenly, however, he’s not shooting on his own goal. He’s Wayne freaking Gretzky and he outskates all the Hockey Socs and scores! This pisses Blaine off and he doesn’t wait for a face-off to smack Mitchell around. Mitchell’s response? He doesn’t punch him (because he’s a Cali … well, okay, that joke’s played). He just waits for the next face-off and pantses the guy, then takes off.
This impresses the gang so much that they come to Wiley’s house and offer their allegiance and say they need Mitchell’s help racing Blaine and the rest of the Socs down “Devil’s Backbone,” a really tough street course through the hills around Cincinnati that … well, that’s NEVER BEEN MENTIONED BEFORE.
Seriously, never once, which is completely ridiculous because every sports movie has a Chekov’s Gun that is either a course, tournament, game, or opponent to beat. In the other hockey movie that came out around this time and did very well–The Mighty Ducks–the Hawks were Chekov’s Opponent. You knew early on they were the team to beat and became the team to beat at the end. Shit, even Better Off Dead …, which is not a sports movie, mentions the K12 enough times in its first act that you know that’s the course down which Laine Meyer and Roy Stalin will race at the end of the movie.
But Airborne not only doesn’t mention Chekov’s Course until it’s time to race Chekov’s Course, it completely switches sports! Okay, I realize that earlier in the movie we twice saw that Mitchell could rollerblade. First it was at the very beginning when he and his friend blade to the beach; next, it was when he got his blades sent to him in the mail and could finally skate around Cincy (with every kid that had something with wheels following him in amazement), but the obsession of the Greasers and Socs throughout the film is HOCKEY. Not in-line racing. As someone who played an enormous amount of roller hockey in my formative years, I can tell you that hockey is usually played on a flat surface and involves sticks and shooting and maybe even fighting (I even messaged my friends on Facebook and they confirmed what hockey is); not racing down steep hills known as “The Devil’s Backbone”: the scariest, most challenging course in Cincinnati that we just heard of a few minutes ago. Besides, if the two gangs of kids were so focused on hockey, why would they be racing instead of just playing a winner-take-all-the-bragging-rights-and-respect-from-everyone-else-because-apparently-everyone-in-the-high-school-loves-hockey game?
Okay, I’ll tell you: because the last fifteen minutes of the movie are the race and for what it’s worth, it’s pretty fun to watch. The group of skaters starts at the top of this hill (which I’m pretty sure is located on the Kentucky side of the river) and the goal is for three guys on each team to make it all the way to the finish line, which is near Riverfront Stadium. We’re supposed to assume they all know the route, and they take off like lightning but not before Blaine tells Jack, “The rules are, there are no rules.”
Let me repeat that. “The rules are, there are no rules.”
If that doesn’t tell you how ultimately cheesy this movie is, I don’t know what does. I actually wrote “BWAH-HA-HA!!!” in my notes while I was watching it. And Blaine’s line means that he and the rest of the Socs can be total assholes and try to knock everyone around and play dirty. You know, never mind that they are basically headed down a mountain at breakneck speed into coming traffic. But at least they’re wearing helmets.
The sequence has its funny moments–Jack Black knocks a guy onto a porch where old people are sitting then takes the inevitable tree trunk to the nuts–and there is some incredible, if not impossible stunt work. For instance, at one point, a few guys manage to go under a tractor-trailer with nary a scratch and Mitchell jumps a car. No, really. Mitchell. Jumps. A. Car. Oh, and also manages to find a raised flatbed truck right by the second-floor of the Riverfront Stadium parking garage that he can use to jump down to ground level and get to the finish line. [Btw, If you want a great breakdown of the entire race, the website Filmdrunk did one earlier this year that’s flat-out amazing.]
In the end, with his team up 2-1 (the dude named “Snake” was the first one to finish and therefore being the Greasers’ “1”), Blaine knocks the shit out of Jack and then tries to send Mitchell over some railing so that he can cruise to the finish. But goes wrong and he ends up in the river! Hilarious. Mitchell skates over to Jack, offers his hand and tells him that they have a race to win. And from there it’s all high fives and awesomeness and guys getting the girl and fading to black.
I had this movie pegged as one of those really bad “’80s Hangover” teen movies that permeated the first part of that particular decade until filmmakers and marketing people finally realized that the teen movie genre was dead (well, until Clueless came along in 1995), and there are definitely aspects of that. However, as I watched it I found that its production really made it a Nineties movie.
Eighties movies, at least those that are from the first half of the decade, have a clunky, muted feel that looks as if they were all shot on videotape. Cinematographer Daryn Okada obviously had fun shooting the blading and surfing scenes in the opening and the way that much of the Cincinnati stuff is lit really gives you the feel of that mid-winter “The sun never really rises” type of day, which is honestly the type of lighting that I remember from my own days of playing hockey. Stewart Copeland’s music seems a little 1980s, what with the Joe Satriani-sounding guitar riffs, but you have to remember that even though this came out in the middle of the grunge era, bands like Van Halen still had a significant presence and people still liked their guitar solos. Then, there’s the fashion. high-waisted jeans, bulk sweaters and turtlenecks on girls? Check. Floppy haircuts on the guys? Check. Flannel? Check. But it doesn’t look forced.
This is not a great movie, nor is it so bad that it’s unwatchable. In fact, catching it on cable right before the “Devil’s Backbone” scene is like catching The Karate Kid before the tournament–you have to keep watching. And honestly, the thought that kept running through my head the entire time that I was watching this? I could have written this movie when I was sixteen years old (and I’m slightly annoyed that I didn’t because I might have more money now). If you can find it, go for it. Get airborne. I mean, the only rule is there are no rules.