Who Rolls the Rollerboys?
Revisiting the 1990 sci-fi thriller ‘Prayer of the Rollerboys.’
I fell in love with Atlanta upon my first visit back in March, though I quickly realized I could never live there full-time, lest my beer-soaked body slowly stiffen into a Sodomite salt pillar of saturated fat. For the last 12 years, Atlanta has been converting a former rail corridor into a bike- and pedestrian-friendly trail encircling the city, known as the BeltLine. It was at a combination vintage market/burlesque venue inside a warehouse abutting the BeltLine — en route to my second helping of fried chicken in an 18-hour span — that I purchased for a cool $3 the above VHS copy of the 1990 sci-fi thriller Prayer of the Rollerboys, a film the Los Angeles Times could only describe as “spunky kinetic pizzaz.”
Directed by Rick King, who shared a story credit for both the original Point Break and its 2015 remake, Prayer of the Rollerboys stars the late Corey Haim and a 22-year-old Patricia Arquette. For some reason, King makes no mention of Rollerboys—or its two Saturn Award nominations—on his LinkedIn page.
The film opens with Griffin (Haim) rollerblading through a graffiti-covered skate park, doing jumps, flips, and other assorted Cool Guy Things, while the Rollerboys’ charismatic, mulleted leader Gary Lee provides handy exposition.
“Before many of you were born, our parents caused the great crash. They were consumed with greed,” he says. “They ignored repeated warnings, and borrowed more money then they could ever repay. They lost our farms. They lost our factories. They lost our homes. Alien nations foreclosed on our nation while we? We were locked in homeless camps. Now, America belongs to the enemy. Forget your parents. They didn’t care about us.”
Somewhere in the middle of this CPAC speech, we are shown a rollerblading moose with an enormous penis.
In this dystopian world set in the not-so-distant future, America has suffered catastrophic economic collapse, thanks to the grown-ups. The federal government is broke and unable to pay its employees. The Dow is in free fall, and the ozone’s been depleted. Large swaths of the population live in homeless camps, and those who immigrate illegally to Mexico are deported and shipped back to San Diego. Harvard University—the last of the Ivies to flee the country—has relocated itself literally brick by brick to Hiroshima. And as far as I can tell, the only vegetable anyone eats in this world is kelp.
Still, it’s comforting to know that even after gang warfare and a drug epidemic has ravaged our cities and foreign creditors have picked over our carcass, Dunkin’ Donuts remains steadfastly open for business.
So who are the Rollerboys? They’re a white supremacist paramilitary youth gang on rollerblades, armed to the teeth and eagerly awaiting the mysterious “Day of the Rope.” They’re also some sort of corporate enterprise with a swanky, modernist office space, factories, and “foreign investments,” all aimed at “buying back America.” Also, they manufacture and distribute “mist,” a highly addictive, fluorescent-green drug inhaled through a sort of oxygen mask connected to a Volcano vaporizer. Lee later explains that the Chinese engineered mist to “pacify their population.”
As the kingpin of a drug-trafficking, gun-running crime syndicate, you might expect Lee to keep a low profile. But unlike car insurance companies, print media, Orange Crush, and the Big Ten Conference, the federal RICO Act does not appear to have survived into this terrifying new age, and so Lee and the Rollerboys are free to bop down Venice Beach, pumping their arms in perfect unison, in broad-ass daylight.
Griffin, who lives with his little brother Miltie in a tent after they were orphaned by a “traffic accident,” grew up with Gary Lee, but wants nothing to do with the Rollerboys. He blades alone. And when he isn’t doing that, Griffin dons a barbershop quartet singer’s outfit and delivers pizzas for a guy named Pinky in the “Pinky van,” which is outfitted with chainlink fence over the windows. On one such delivery, Griffin and Miltie happen upon a burning “mist house,” and ram the van into the front of it in order to free a Rollerboy named Bullwinkle. Facing five years of indentured servitude to Pinky for wrecking his ride, Griffin is drawn closer into the Rollerboys’ orbit when Lee buys him a brand-new van.
Before I get any further, it’s worth noting how much these characters really dislike Polish people. After Griffin is questioned by the hard-boiled police detective Jaworsky (played by J.C. Quinn, the guy who killed Hooch in Turner & Hooch), Lee asks him what he told “that Pollack detective.” And when Griffin catches Miltie selling mist on the Rollerboys’ behalf, the latter tries to defuse the situation with a joke: “What did the Polish guy say after his honeymoon? ‘I coulda porked her!’” And though it’s never explained how one sovereign nation may purchase another, halfway through the film, Germany buys Poland. (There’s also mention of the Israeli Defense Forces “cleaning up Northern Ireland.”)
It’s also worth noting that Miltie is a serious horndog. When Casey (Arquette) stops by the junk shop run by the boys’ father figure, an elderly black man inexplicably named “Speedbagger,” Miltie tries his hand at matchmaking: “Yo, pretty pie,” he says. “My bro over there is the baddest skater there is. So, how about you rush me those digits and maybe, maybe he’ll give you a call?”
Lee and the Rollerboys throw a bacchanal in his honor, set to Nine Inch Nails’ “Head Like a Hole.” A small child in a three-piece suit gives Lee a gift certificate for a “year’s worth of miniature golf”—I still don’t know why—while Bango, Lee’s capo and Duke Nukem lookalike, makes moves on Casey, who’s actually an undercover cop:
BANGO: You don’t need a bikini in the Jacuzzi. I won’t tell your daddy, okay?
CASEY: It’s not my daddy—it’s the little Loch Ness monster I’m worried about.
Folks, the dialogue is bad.
Fearing his little brother will be further seduced by the Rollerboys, Griffin brokers a deal with Jaworsky to go undercover and bring them from the inside. (“They’re going to chew up his baby white ass,” Jaworsky barks. “Wake the fuck up, ramrod.”) Griffin visits the Rollerboys’ offices and tells Lee that he’d like to join the gang. Here, we are treated to the film’s most awe-inspiringly clunky exchange:
LEE: I have this thing about betrayers. They piss me off.
GRIFFIN: Sounds good to me.
Once initiated, Griffin gets to work doing Rollerboy things—i.e., extorting local business owners and youth outreach, presumably modeled after the Black Panthers’ free breakfast program. Bullwinkle becomes suspicious of our hero when, during a massacre of the rival B-13 gang, Griffin lets two kids escape. To make matters worse, Speedbagger disowns Griffin for his new gang ties.
Still, Griffin bores deeper into the Rollerboys operation. Lee shows off his new “ultra-deluxe” mist house, franchised from the Chinese. Rollerboys who work “kitchen duty” cooking the mist—one piece of hi-tech equipment is literally just a stand mixer—receive a “fat salary, stock incentives, beefed-up pension,” Lee says, before handing Griffin a wad of what appears to be monopoly money: “That should pry that honey’s legs wide enough.”
Anyway, the third act drags. Miltie starts misting. The Rollerboys kidnap Speedbagger, tie a bag around his head, and nearly beat him to death. Griffin spends the night with Casey at her apartment, and in the morning, he’s awakened by Bullwinkle, who tries to kill both of them after finding Casey’s police badge. The immaculately coiffed Bullwinkle is foiled by two unnamed cops who, just a few scenes earlier, took bets from inside their surveillance van as to whether Griffin will “score.”
With Bullwinkle out of the way, Griffin assumes kitchen duty alongside Bango, who wears a chef’s apron to cook drugs in a montage set to King Swamp’s “Blown Away.” At last, the meaning of the “Day of the Rope” is revealed: “rope” is an additive that sterilizes mist users, part of Lee’s “final solution” to weed out the weak. Officers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern break into the airstream, shoot Bango, and reveal they are bad cops, who only want the mist for themselves. Before they can kill Griffin, or realize they’re on a hot mic, Casey shoots them both.
“You know, I knew those two were up to something,” Jaworsky says. “I hope you don’t mind that we finished it here. I hate court.”
In their final showdown, Griffin and Lee chase each other—on rollerblades, as these are Rollerboys—through a shipyard. In the end, Griffin is either unable or unwilling to shoot Lee execution style, and pistol-whips him instead, allowing him to be brought into custody. Free to leave Los Angeles and the Rollerboys behind in favor of brighter future, Griffin retires to Oregon in the Pinky van, joined by Casey, Miltie, and a miraculously rehabilitated Speedbagger.
But hold on, because this bad boy sets itself up for a sequel. From inside his maximum-security, lavishly decorated jail cell, Lee instructs his accountant to “increase our investments in the Pacific Northwest.” And I don’t mean that he calls his bookie on a smuggled cell phone, or gives the message to a crooked corrections officer to pass along. There is an accountant, seated at a fully furnished desk, in his damn jail cell.
Unfortunately, we were never graced with Prayer of the Rollerboys II, leaving myriad questions unanswered. What happens to Griffin and pals in Oregon? What was the titular prayer of the Rollerboys? Is Lee’s accountant imprisoned as well, or is this his satellite office? If the former, why is he allowed to continue doing accountant things?
I’m still so upset about this accountant. •