I think it’s hilarious that the modern version of skateboarding is just a variation of what was called Freestyle skating in the ‘80s. I’m not an expert on skating (I unsuccessfully dabbled in it briefly in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s) but I do enjoy watching ‘80s skateboard movies. Today I watched Thrashin’ featuring the now well respected actor Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men, Milk, True Grit, The Goonies). Aside from being a film about rival skateboard gangs it also demonstrates how white suburban teenagers are inherently racist and how urban white kids are more racially tolerant.
Brolin’s rivals, The Daggers, led by the tough on the outside but sweet on the inside Hook (Robert Rusler), is a skate gang featuring not only white pseudo-punk rockers but also African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans – a cavalcade of multiculturalism skating through the Southern California shore side. When Cory (Brolin) falls for Hook’s sister Chrissy, (Pamela Gidley) visiting from Indiana for the summer, an intense feud between the white suburban kids and the Daggers begins. The story follows your basic Romeo and Juliet storyline but unfortunately nobody kills themselves at the end of Thrashin’. The film also features the Red Hot Chili Peppers in their infancy.
The film’s name derives from a certain type of skateboarding called Thrashin’. When Chrissy asks about it she gets a douchebag response from Cory. Here’s the exchange:
Chrissy: “What do you thrash?”
Cory: “What d’ya got?”
Did the ‘80s just suck or is it me? Naturally, there are some great things about the ‘80s (SST Records (which is featured briefly on one of Brolin’s shirts), bad movies, and much more) but overall the Reagan era and half of Bush’s only term was a dismal time for America. It was a time of excess, cable television and MTV, terrible cartoons, and countless slogans which make no sense. It was also the decade which gave us No Fear shirts – you get my drift. Bret Easton Ellis’ novel American Psycho sums up the attitude of the ‘80s brilliantly: a time where everybody became brand conscious (to a larger extent), where selfishness became a virtue, and film became bland because the Spielberg/Lucas template was what studios demanded out of larger budget productions. It also gave us bad movies like Thrashin’.
I do enjoy the smaller amount of product placement and integration in Thrashin’, even though there’s a plethora of it. You see a long line of skateboarding products and shirts for things like Orange Slice but the big skateboard company is fictitious (Smash Skateboards). I can imagine in our Tony Hawk Pro Skater/product obsessed 21st century that Powell Peralta would be the company and countless advertisements for various products would litter the screen at every turn. Watching Thrashin’ from a 2011 standpoint you can see the beginnings of hyper-commercialization at work in teen targeted cinema (even though product integration and placement was by no means new in the ‘80s); it’s the beginnings of niche marketing, using the mediums of mainstream media to convey the coolness of a subculture and hopefully recruiting devotees who’ll purchase the featured products for years to come.
Thrashin’ also features a righteously funny PG-13 sex scene between Brolin and Gidley, featuring a few chest kisses, near nudity, overdramatic expressions of pleasure, soft and tender caressing, and a song ripping off Endless Love. In addition, it has a great montage of the five white suburban boys skating around Hollywood Boulevard and being trouble – but not too much trouble because they’re not the “evil” Daggers. Probably the most memorable part is a skateboard chase scene, with the Daggers pursuing Brolin while Wild in the Streets by the Circle Jerks plays. This scene contains a bunch of great wipeouts, and an eventual conclusion in a mall parking lot where one of the Daggers falls a few stories (yet is probably just fine) before Brolin escapes by hiding on top of a city bus.
Of course, proper retaliation means burning down a ramp, constructed by Brolin and company in the first act – what else can a troubled teenager do when a “Valley” punk bangs your sister? Naturally none of the Daggers are charged with arson and a proper revenge scene, featuring some seriously ridiculous keyboard and guitar driven music, results in a joust scene between Cory and Hook. This scene, through bad acting (“Chrissy, I’m going…OK!”), demonstrates the ethically unsound implications of vengeance. But, like real life, stupid teenagers need to learn through making their own mistakes.
The joust scene itself, with its motivation coming once again from Shakespeare, is pretty lackluster. The two enemies skate back and forth and try to fight with padded maces – all in all pretty lame. The Daggers are also wearing a bunch of cheap looking makeup and the action isn’t very tantalizing. The best part is Sherilyn Fenn (Twin Peaks) dressed up in Kabuki makeup. Thankfully the police arrive and end this horribly boring scene. Also, Brolin’s arm is broken by Hook.
After some tension between Chrissy and Cory, and another montage featuring bad ‘80s music, we finally come to the downhill meet – the culmination of everything so far and Cory’s object of desire – featuring a $1,000 prize. Eventually it comes down between the protagonist and antagonist, skating down the California hills to some pretty intense hot licks. Eventually Hook wipes out and Cory, clocked at 63 miles per hour, wins the downhill L.A. Massacre race to large amounts of fanfare, a contract with Smash Skates, and a reunion with Chrissy. Cory also wins Hook’s respect, the two become friends, and everybody learns a lesson right before the couple kisses and the credits roll.
You have to love how the ‘80s made everything seem so simple. Cory’s whole life depends on winning the downhill race – the girlfriend, the good job, etc. – all stem from winning a local skateboard race. What? I didn’t realize that life worked this way. I’ve come in second or third in a few things before so does that mean I’m not a winner like Cory? Everything in films like Thrashin’ is so black and white (except for Cory’s crew, which is all white) and the lessons it imparts are shallow. Thankfully I’m not a parent because I wouldn’t let any child of mine watch this kind of dribble and believe this is how the world actually works.
Here is the trailer.