Wassup Rockers

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For a certain breed of indie movie fan, hearing the name Larry Clark is liable to induce seizures. Ever since Kids convinced polite, middle-aged art-house audiences that their precious children might be getting stoned, having unprotected sex and beating up gays in the park, each of the director’s new films has been greeted by equal amounts admiration, disgust and ratings-board penalties. (His 2002 effort Ken Park, which could best be described as a hardcore after-school special, was banned in Australia.)

So it may come as a relief to some and a disappointment to others that the director’s new film, Wassup Rockers, is Larry Clark-lite: Not once in it does a guy asphyxiate himself while jerking off, there are no threesomes and no one talks about having anal sex at summer camp. Actually, there may be one instance of the latter, but the teens in this film mumble so much, most of the time it’s hard to figure out what the hell they’re saying.

Rockers is the closest Clark has ever come to making a party film: It’s laid-back, full of music and low on incident, but it’s ultimately too formless and trumped-up to recommend. The director seems utterly enamored of the seven nonprofessional Latino actors in his cast: For much of the film he just cranks up the thrash-punk sound track and observes the guys hanging out in a big clot on the sidewalk, or in the parks of South Central Los Angeles, laughing and taking spills off their skateboards (there’s more skating in this movie than in Lords of Dogtown).

But when the music stops and the kids start talking, the movie loses its modest charm.

Constantly picked on by the black kids in their hood — these ghetto misfits play punk, not hip hop — the septet hops a bus bound for Beverly Hills, where they get into increasingly preposterous forms of trouble. Some slutty rich girls throw themselves at the rockers, who then get beaten up by the girls’ preppy boyfriends. Racist cops harass them not once but twice. Then the boys crash a swank party thrown by a mincing fashion photographer who serves pink drinks, tells the DJ to "play some Madonna" and tries to get into group-leader Jonathan Velasquez’s pants. (For someone as sexually liberated as he claims to be, Clark has never shown much sympathy to non-heteros.)

The director is known for his documentary-style realism, but these would-be actors never quite lose their self-consciousness in front of the camera. They stare off into space, and whenever they’re talking, they look at each other with a "dude, can you believe some guy is filming us?" smirk on their faces. Milton Velasquez, playing a character with the unfortunate nickname Spermball, fares the best as the shy, pathetically suicidal outsider among the bunch. Had the movie focused more on his story — or the reasons for his depression — its final scenes might’ve had more resonance. Instead of any real insight, the film is overloaded with lingering shots of the nubile, shirtless torsos of the seven trash teens. If they gave out prizes for the Best Navel-Gazing in a Motion Picture, Clark would win a lifetime achievement award.

Showing at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111).

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