"Grind" is a dumbed-down cross between 2000's "Road Trip
" and 2001's "Out Cold
," and that is not a comparison one should strive for in the film industry. After all, those two features weren't exactly the pinnacle of high-minded art themselves. First-time director Casey La Scala (producer of 2003's "What a Girl Wants
") seemingly has shot "Grind" on the fly, picking up aimless shots wherever he can grab something that possibly looks funny, cohesive narrative be damned! Because of this seeming fact, the movie is flat-footed, confused, and oppressively banal, the majority of its occasional laughs coming from their sheer out-of-place oddity rather than any sign of discernible wit.
The subject is skateboarding (haven't filmmakers and studios learned their lesson from the badly received flops "Rad" and "Airborne?"), and recent high school graduate Eric Rivers (Mike Vogel) lives for the sport. Faced with a dead-end future if he doesn't follow his dreams, Eric convinces college-bound pal Dustin (Adam Brody), goofball Matt (Vince Vieluf), and ladies' man Sweet Lou (Joey Kern) to join him on a cross-country tour following idolized pro skater Jimmy Wilson (Jason London). If he can get Jimmy's attention and show him his own skateboarding talents, Eric figures, then he and his friends will never have to return to their unsatisfying Chicago hometown again.
It's impossible to tell how much of Ralph Sall's screenplay has been transferred to film and how much was improvised because the entire 100 minutes of "Grind" give off the impression that the entire thing was made up on the spot. There is a sort of plot, to be sure, as Eric and company get involved in one misadventure after the next, but each scene's content is so inanely self-contained that it feels more like a series of "Saturday Night Live" skits gone terribly wrong. In one scene, Sweet Lou shacks up with a nameless bimbo, only to have her steal their van. At another point, they have a run-in with a child at a fast food joint who proves he has clearly had too much to eat. And later still, they visit Matt's estranged, sincere parents (Randy Quaid and Christine Estabrook), who teach at a literal clown school. It is safe to say Quaid's mystifying, painted-faced turn here will not be one that he will be remembered for, and he should only count that as a high blessing.
The four lead actors, all relatively little-known, sell the notion that they are friends by the easygoing chemistry they exhibit. In his feature debut, Mike Vogel is the idealistic aspiring skateboardist Eric Rivers, and he plays him with something close to likability. The same goes for Adam Brody (2002's "The Ring
"), as the more uptight Dustin. As the hunkalicious Sweet Lou, Joey Kern does a dead-ringer imitation of Matthew McConaughey in 1993's "Dazed and Confused," his spark of entertainment value coming from this very fact. If these three actors fit the middling requirements asked of them, then Vince Vieluf (2001's "Rat Race
"), as the untamed Matt, surpasses them with his fresh and offbeat personality. Vieluf will do anything for a laugh, whether it be kissing his friend or licking the face of a stranger, and even if it doesn't always work, at least he tries to do something different.
Jennifer Morrison (2000's "Urban Legends: Final Cut
") should either be pitied or slapped in the face for accepting the miserably underwritten part of Eric's cute love interest, skateboarding groupie Jamie. Morrison and Vogel might have made a solid romantic match had they been given more than five minutes of screen time together. Their lack of development, however, stunts any sort of effectiveness from this pointless subplot.
The story is bad and the writing even worse, but one would at least expect a skateboarding movie to feature some noteworthy stunts. Not so. The choreography of the sport is fine, but the distraction of stunt people constantly standing in for the actors grows to be truly tedious. How, after all, is a viewer supposed to get involved in the skateboarding playoffs when he or she does not even believe it is really the actor out on the ramps? When a sports film does not surround its sport with engaging characters and a story worth getting involved in, then you know it has failed. When a sports film even leaves its sports scenes with something to be desired, then it is really in trouble. Such is the worthless fate of "Grind."